Whale Species in South Australian Waters

It’s not just Southern Right whales that grace our waters in South Australia … 29 other whale species have been recorded, from small Common Dolphins (2m) to the largest animal ever to have lived, the Blue Whale (30m).

There are over 80 species of whales in the world, and all whales belong to the order Cetacea (Suh-TAY-sha). Baleen whales (like Southern Right whales) are filter feeders, using baleen to sieve tiny marine crustaceans from the sea, and have 2 blowholes on top of their head. They are primarily migratory species, needing to travel to the Antarctic waters in summer when their prey is most plentiful.

Toothed whales have teeth! Their main food is fish, although some species have other preferences as well, such as Killer whales (Orcas) which love seals and sea lions and Sperm Whales which prey on large squid. Toothed whales have only 1 blowhole.

Identifying Whale Species

The 6 most commonly seen whales in South Australia are the Southern Right, Humpback, Sperm, Blue and Killer Whales, and Common Dolphins. Each species can be identified by the shape of their blow, and the size and shape of their tail flukes and pectoral fins, and overall body size, colour and shape.

Download: How to Identify 6 commonly seen Whales in SA (351 KB pdf )

Most of the other whales recorded in South Australia are seen less often than the 6 mentioned above and include the following species:

Baleen Whales

  • Pygmy Right Whale: 5 – 7 metres
  • Blue Whale: 25 – 33 metres
  • Fin Whale: 22 – 26 metres
  • Bryde’s Whale: 12 – 14 metres

Toothed Whales

  • Pygmy Sperm Whale: to 3.4 metres
  • Dwarf Sperm Whale: to 2.7 metres
  • False Killer Whale: 5 – 6 metres
  • Long-Finned Pilot Whale: 5 – 7 metres
  • Short-Finned Pilot Whale: to 6.5 metres
  • Strap-Toothed Whale: to 6.2 metres
  • Gray’s Beaked Whale: to 5.6 metres
  • Shepherd’s Beaked Whale: 6 – 7 metres
  • Arnoux’s Beaked Whale: to 9.6 metres
  • Hector’s Beaked Whale: to 4.5 metres
  • Andrew’s Beaked Whale: to 5 metres
  • Cuvier’s Beaked Whale: to 7 metres
  • Southern Bottlenose Whale: 7 – 8 metres
  • Bottlenose Dolphin: 3 – 4 metres
  • Risso’s Dolphin: 2 – 4 metres

A group of dedicated and passionate Whale Spotters in Victor Harbor, together with staff from the South Australian Museum and South Australian Whale Centre take and catalogue photographs of Southern Right Whales in order to identify individuals and track Southern Right Whale movements and migration patterns.

Whale Research Organisations in Australia