Whale Watching in South Australia
Each winter South Australia has the privilege of watching Southern Right Whales gather on its pristine shores. Sightings usually begin around Mid-May and eagerly awaiting whale watchers gather atop the cliffs and headlands of the area’s stunning coastline, hoping to spot the first Whale of the season.
Every year thousands of visitors flock to the seaside city of Victor Harbor, hoping to catch a glimpse of the gentle giants annual migration. Only an hour’s drive from Adelaide and boasting the incredible diversity of 30 different Whale species South Australia and the Southern Fleurieu Peninsula really are a whale watcher’s paradise.
Whale Spotting locations
Whales can be spotted right along the coast of the Southern Fleurieu Peninsula. This map of local whale watching hot-spots is a helpful guide for visitors and locals alike. Helping you hunt down the locations found on our live sightings log. Physical copies of this map are available for the duration of whale season from the SA Whale Centre.
Whale Watching Tips
Whale watching is an incredibly humbling experience. However, it can also be incredibly frustrating. Whales can be tricky to see despite their immense size, and once you do find one, getting a clear view or a photo can still be difficult.
Below you will find the Whale Centres top 10 tips for whale watching in South Australia. These tips are designed to help maximise your chances of viewing one of our magnificent annual visitors.
Happy Whale Watching!
#1: Know your locals
Southern Right Whales are the most common of the larger whales found in South Australian waters. Southern Rights are coloured grey to black with white patches known as blazes sometimes found on the belly. They have no dorsal fin on their back & white lumps called callosities on the head. Southern Right Whales are Baleen whales. They feed on vast quantities of microscopic krill & plankton at their summering grounds in the Antarctic.
Like most baleen whales Southern Rights have 2 blow holes resulting in a distinctive V-shaped blow. They are a large, rotund whale with a square head and flippers. Southern Right Whales visit South Australian shores during our winter months to mate, calf and socialise.
#2: Which whale is which?
You can identify whale species by observing their features.
For example. Southern Right Whales have a distinctive V shaped blow, white callosities, square flippers and no dorsal fin.
In contrast, Humpback whales have 2 blowholes angled together to create a tall bushy blow. They have extremely long pectoral (side) fins and small knobs can be found on the top of head. Humpback whales are coloured dark brown to black with white on the underside of the flippers, flanks and belly. They also have throat grooves known as rorquals, that expand when the whale takes in food.
Click Here to find out more about identifying common South Australian whale species.
#3: Be prepared
You never know when a whale will show itself, so be prepared! Make sure you have a pair of binoculars stored in your vehicle, Keep your camera charged and ready to go and monitor our live sightings log for the most up to date whale sighting information.
#4: Know your compass
Whales are often reported in our sightings log as “Travelling” with the direction they are moving.
So as they say, Never Eat Soggy Weetbix and know which way is which so you can watch that whale! Wow that’s a lot of W’s!!
#5: Learn the lingo
The Southern Right Whales below are exhibiting behaviours known as Spyhopping and Body Rolling.
The eyes are typically set down low in whale species to monitor surroundings below. Therefore, in order to view the world above, whales raise their head up above the waterline to peer at their surroundings and spectators.
Whales frequently lay upside down, rolling on the surface with their pectoral fins stuck out for balance. many whales do this in order to rest but females may exhibit this behaviour when avoiding the demands of a hungry calf, or the advances of males during courtship.
Click here to learn more about common whale behaviours.
#6: Get up high
Monitor your surroundings for higher ground. When safe, higher vantage points result in better views and clearer images. You can find the best vantage points for whale watching listed on our whale watching map. Physical copies of this map are available for the duration of whale season from the SA Whale Centre. Or you can download your own here.
#7: Be patient
This happy Humpback was spotted in 2014 and its spectacular breach was captured on film. However, it took hours hours of patiently waiting for the action to start. Whales move at their own pace and some are more active than others. So be patient and put in the hours to capture that moment. It’ll be worth the wait!
#8: Know the law
Personal watercraft (such as jet skis) are prohibited from launching and must not operate within the Victor Harbor Restricted Area during whale season. May 1st – Sept 30th. In all other waters and at all other times, they must keep a distance of 300 metres from all marine mammals (whales, dolphins, seals etc). Any other vessel within the Encounter Bay Restricted Area must not get within 300 metres of a whale and must not fish in the restricted area. On land you may get no closer than 30m to any marine mammal.
Aircraft (including Remote Piloted Aircraft such as drones) must maintain a minimum distance of 300m from whales. In addition, aircraft at the minimum distance must not hover over the animal and whales must not be approached by RPA from the front.
Weather on land, in the air or on water, be sure to know your limits whilst whale watching this season. Visit our Whale Watching Guidelines page for more information.
#9: Rug up & keep warm
Whale Season is in mid-winter form May to September. Be sure to wear thick warm clothes. Pack a travel mug of hot drink and warm up a heat bag before you head out. After all the whales come here to keep warm & so should you! Travel Mugs & Lupin Bags are available at the SA Whale Centre gift shop.
#10: Hot cinnamon doughnuts
There’s nothing like hot cinnamon doughnuts to warm your belly before you hit the whale trail!
Happy Whale Watching!