A recent study confirmed that there are 45 Cetaceans (scientific name referring to whales, dolphins and porpoises) found in Australia’s oceans. Many of these species are transient, with Humpback and Southern Right Whales famed for their remarkable migratory journeys from the nutrient rich waters of Antarctica. In fact, the world's largest population of Humpback whales, estimated to be made up of more than 30,000 individuals, migrate every year off the coast of Western Australia, to breed in the warm waters off the Kimberley coast. This is mirrored on Australia’s east coast where over 12,000 Humpback Whales migrate over 2,500km (1,500 miles) each way.
Along the coastline of southern Australia, Pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) can be seen in the wild, often along rugged stretches of limestone, granite and basalt. The three common species (Australian Sea-Lion, Australian Fur Seal and Long-nosed Fur Seal) are typically more upright when on land, and can move with agility, making them a delight to watch and interact with in the ocean.
Search for tours including Marine Mammals, using the seasonal viewing opportunities calendar further down the page or by using the map button directly below:
Summer: Dec-Feb, Ningaloo & Exmouth
The Ningaloo area supports 10 percent of the world’s Dugong population where they can occasionally be spotted coming to the surface for air. The Dugongs feast on Rhizones around the inner reef shallows (which are the roots & shoots of the seagrasses) and are generally quite shy. These animals can live up to 70 years but are slow breeders, emphasising the importance of the region in conserving the species.
Bottlenose and Australian Humpback Dolphins are abundant in the area, with babies being calved around this time. It is only recently that the Australian Humpback was acknowledged as a separate species, with it’s distinctive dark triangular dorsal feature making it easy to differentiate from Bottlenoses. They usually live in pods of up to six individuals, but can be seen in larger groups and prefer to remain close to the coast in water less than 20 metres deep.
Short-beaked Common, Spinner and Humpback Dolphins can also be spotted occasionally, with both Common and Spinner usually being spotted in very large pods.
Winter: Jun-Aug, Ningaloo & Exmouth
One of the world’s great natural migrations of 30,000 individual west coast Humpback Whales, takes place off the coast of Western Australia. The cooler water coincides with the highest concentration of Coral Spawn and Plankton, providing plentiful food for these amazing aerialists, with the opportunity to swim with them from July onwards.
A large majority of Humpbacks use the shallows of Ningaloo Reef to calve and the mothers protect their Neonates (newborns) with their pale colour and floppy dorsal fins in these waters away from predators, holding them up to the surface to breathe, for the first few days.
Orcas are prevalent at this time, attracted by the Humpback calves with research suggesting up to 15% are lost due to attacks. Pseudo Orcas, Minke Whales, Pilot Whales, Short-beaked Common Dolphins, Spinner Dolphins are occasionally sighted whilst Bottlenose and Australian Humpback Dolphins are abundant as they prey on fish and squid. The Ningaloo area supports 10 percent of the world’s Dugong population, with these passive creatures occasionally spotted coming to the surface for air, in-between feeding on the roots & shoots of the seagrasses in the Ningaloo shallows.
Spring: Sep-Nov, Ningaloo & Exmouth
A staggering 30,000 west coast Humpback Whales migrate through the region at this before heading back to Antarctica before summer. Mothers will typically move their calves into the Gulf area at Exmouth over these months, to fatten them up for the lengthy journey south. In just three months, the calf will double its size from four to eight metres in length. The opportunity to swim with these creatures until the end of October is an unforgettable and for many, a spiritual experience.
Orcas are active in the area, largely due to the presence of the Humpback calves, with these amazing hunters successful in preying on the calves despite the mother’s best efforts to protect their young. Pseudo Orcas, Minke Whales, Pilot Whales, Short-beaked Common Dolphins, Spinner Dolphins are occasional visitors to the area as is the largest ever creature to dwell the earth, the Blue Whale.
More common are Bottlenose and Australian Humpback Dolphins, with babies also being calved around this time. A keen eye will also be able to spot the vulnerable Dugong, with the region supporting a population of up to 1,000 individuals. They are typically seen in pairs or by themselves, and only breed every 3-7 years.
Autumn: Mar-May, Ningaloo & Exmouth
The Ningaloo area supports 10 percent of the world’s Dugong population where they can occasionally be spotted coming to the surface for air. Although they are present throughout the year, May tends to be the peak viewing time as the waters cool and they head northwards. The Dugongs feast on Rhizones around the inner reef shallows (which are the roots & shoots of the seagrasses) and are generally quite shy. These animals can live up to 70 years but are slow breeders, emphasising the importance of the region in conserving the species.
The mass spawning of coral after the full moon in March and April energises the food chain in the region, with baitfish a tempting appetiser for the plentiful Bottlenose and Australian Humpback Dolphins. Pseudo Orcas, Minke Whales, Pilot Whales, Short-beaked Common Dolphins, Spinner Dolphins are also occasionally sighted across the rich marine waters.
Summer: Dec-Feb, Kangaroo Island
Summer is when the Long-nosed and Australian Fur Seals congregate to breed at Cape du Couedic in Flinders Chase National Park, with the Long-nosed being the more abundant species. Often the call of territorial males is the first cue that there is more than one species present. There are fierce territorial battles between males at this time, which can be viewed from the boardwalk at Admiral’s Arch.
Gentle sea conditions over Summer build up a wide flat beach which Australian Sea-lions take full advantage of. A colony of around 1000 Sea-lions reside at Seal Bay, where careful habituation ensures an excellent observation opportunity.
Bottle-nosed Dolphins are common encounters in the myriad of bays and coves which surround Kangaroo Island and evidence of their feasting on Cuttlefish can be found in the form of gnawed cuttle-bones.
Winter: Jun-Aug, Kangaroo Island
A long history of habituation at a remote colony of Australian Sea-lions at Seal Bay has resulted in access and observations often compared with Antarctic or Galapagos pinniped encounters. Walking along the beach guides, visitors will learn about their feeding ecology and breeding cycles. This species preys upon fish, squid, cuttlefish, octopus, rock lobster, other small crustaceans and penguins.
Australian Sea-lions are different from most pinnipeds, as their breeding period is nearly 18 months and therefore not seasonal. Prior to the breeding event, male Australian sea-lions head out for extended feeding trips and return to the colony in prime condition, ready for the breeding battles during which they lose a considerable amount of condition.
Bottle-nosed dolphins can bee seen around the bays and coves, often surfing waves on the south coast.
Autumn: Mar-May, Kangaroo Island
Gentle sea conditions over Summer and Autumn build up a wide flat beach which Australian Sea-lions take full advantage of. A large colony can be see basking on the sand in-between fishing trips to the continental shelf.
The breeding season for Australian Sea-lions is variable across the year, with mature bulls fighting for access to females. At this time they become aggressive and territorial, defending their harem of females from other males. Females give birth to only one pup and may not breed again for two to three years. They consequently defend their pups vigorously.
Long-nosed Fur Seal pups can be seen playing around the rock ledges and pools at Cape du Couedic in Flinders Chase National Park, spending time mastering their diving and chasing skills so they can begin hunting in the winter.
Autumn: Mar-May, Eyre Peninsula
Australian Sea-lions lap up the sun on the northern beaches on Hopkins Island, resting between fishing journeys to the continental shelf. Juveniles bound towards visiting boats with their unmistakable glee and excitement, performing somersaults and graceful swirls just waiting for snorkelers to join them.
The breeding season for Australian Sea-lions is variable across the year, with. females giving birth to only one pup. They may not breed again for two to three years. Long-nosed Fur Seal pups can be seen playing around the shallows and rock ledges around the Neptune Islands, however, from April onwards, Great White Sharks arrive to prey upon these unsuspecting newborns.
Summer: Dec-Feb, Eyre Peninsula
Australian Sea-lions use the beaches on Hopkins Island as a haul out, resting between foraging trips. Juveniles bound toward the boat with their unmistakable glee and excitement, performing somersaults and graceful swirls just waiting for snorkelers to join them.
Summer is when the Long-nosed and Australian Fur Seals congregate to breed, with fierce territorial battles between males at this time. The Neptune Islands Conservation Park is home to a colony of over 40,000 Long-nosed Fur Seals, with an estimated 3,500 pups born at this time. These newborns do not venture into the water until April, which spurs the arrival of the massive female Great White Sharks that prey upon these inexperienced swimmers.
Bottle-nosed Dolphins are common encounters across the bays and coves of Coffin Bay and Port Lincoln National Parks.
Spring: Sep-Nov, Eyre Peninsula
Across the Neptune Islands, male bull Long-nosed Fur Seals claim their territory with fierce territorial battles developing at this time. Most of the female Great White Sharks have left the region at this time, however, male Great Whites are still present meaning that young pups still need to keep an eye out for these amazing predators.
Male Australian Sea-lions head out into the Southern Ocean to feed on a variety of fish and crustaceans, returning to their colony in condition to take on competing males for the attention of females.
Bottle-nosed Dolphins are common encounters across the bays and coves of Coffin Bay and Port Lincoln National Parks. Bottlenose dolphins may breed throughout the year, but they usually give birth to their calves in late summer. A female may be pregnant for up to 12 months and a calf may suckle for as long as 18 months.