Whale Watching, Gold Coast

Join a whale watching Gold Coast cruise and catch sight of Humpback whales during their annual migration between the Antarctic & the Great Barrier Reef… or watch for them from land-based headlands or lookouts.

"Thar she blows!" The whaling industry that gave birth to this familiar cry may thankfully be long gone... but this traditional whale-spotting expression still creates great excitement and it's hard to describe the thrill you'll experience when you see your first 'spout'.

These gentle giants may be spotted off the east coast of Australia between May and December - although the peak period is June to November.

From May-August, the whales migrate north to the Great Barrier Reef where they remain until the end of Spring, mating and giving birth before the long trek home.

And from Sept-Dec, they return south to their traditional feeding grounds in the deep, cold waters of Antarctica. Whale Watch Cruise, Gold Coast

During their migratory period, you can join one of several whale watching cruises on the Gold Coast that operate from June to November each year ... or make your own arrangements and watch for them from land-based headlands or lookouts.

Situated halfway between two well-known sites, visitors to the Gold Coast area are presented with two excellent whale-watching opportunities - Cape Byron in northern NSW, and Moreton Bay, off Brisbane's coast.

Both sites were once the scene of whaling operations ... but happily the tide has turned and they are now popular gathering spots for enthralled whale-watchers.

The whales' migration path follows the northern NSW and Queensland coast fairly closely, and the large headland at Cape Byron presents one of the best vantage points for spotting humpbacks - particularly on calm days when they come in close to the Cape.

Humpbacks are the most common whales to be spotted in these waters. They have an average length of 10-12 metres, but have been known to reach a massive 19 metres!

Southern Right whales are also seen occasionally off the coast and you can find out how to tell the two whale species apart by visiting the excellent permanent whaling exhibition at the Cape Byron Lighthouse in northern NSW, near Byron Bay. Whale Watching Tower at Point Lookout, North Stradbroke Island, Queensland TQ

Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island, is another great location for spotting these magnificent creatures and some of the activities that whale-watchers may delight in seeing include tail or pectoral fin slapping, or a fluke-up dive.

And there's nothing more awesome than seeing a whale breach - its huge body propelled from the water to come crashing and splashing back down seconds later.

Dolphins may occasionally be seen in the same area as the migrating whales, particularly around Moreton Bay.

If this is the case on the day you choose to go whale-watching, you may also have the thrill of seeing young whales and dolphins playing together!

Some whale watching boats feature underwater speakers which, if you're lucky enough, may allow you to hear the unique squeaks, moans and delightful sounds that whales make when singing and talking to one another.

Note that whale watching Gold Coast cruises cannot guarantee that whales will be sighted.

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The Migration Cycle of Southern Humpback Whales

An estimated 2,000 humpback whales spend their lives migrating between the two very different environments of Queensland's Great Barrier Reef and the icy waters of Antarctica.

The Antarctic has an abundant supply of krill, which are similar to prawns and provide the main source of food for the humpback whale.

Whales can spend up to six months in these feeding grounds, scooping up two tonnes of krill a day and building up fat reserves in preparation for their journey north.

With the on-set of winter in Antarctica, the whales begin their 10,000km migration to the warm, sub-tropical waters of the Great Barrier Reef - a total of 20,000km when you add the return trip! Travelling in groups, the first whales start their journey north in May.

Breaching Humpback Whale, Queensland TQ

Over the next several weeks, other groups will follow, with the last whales to leave Antarctica being the late-pregnant females.

The soon-to-be mothers spend this extra time feeding in order to build up strength and reserves for the long trip ahead and the birth of their calves.

Whilst eating is the whales' main activity in the Antarctic, mating and birthing are their primary focus in the northern Queensland waters.

The warm, sheltered waters of the Great Barrier Reef provide an excellent nursery and maximise the calves' chance of survival in several ways:

  • calves are born with no body fat and the tropical waters help them to maintain their body temperature;
  • the relatively shallow water makes it easy for calves to head frequently to the surface to breathe;
  • the reef provides shelter from heavy waves and rough conditions which might challenge the new-born calves - even though they are approximately 4m long and weigh up to 700kg at birth!

Mating also occurs among mature whales in the warm waters and with a gestation period of around 11 months, calves will be born the following year when whales once again migrate to north Queensland.

Whales do feed occasionally in the northern Queensland waters, but unlike Antarctica where krill abound, vast quantities of food are scarce and many whales survive on their fat reserves.

Diminishing fat reserves signal the time to head south once more, and the first group to start their migration back to Antarctica are the newly pregnant females, who need to start feeding as early as possible to build reserves.

The last groups to return south are mothers with babies. They stay in the warmer waters for as long as possible while the babies nurse and build their strength.

Once in colder waters, the mother will start to wean her baby and encourage it to feed in larger quantities. This is important to ensure that the baby builds fat layers as quickly as possible, protecting it against icy waters and preparing it for next season's migration.

Half day tour prices:
Adults: $85-$90
Kids (up to 14 years): $50
Concession: $80
- family & group packages may be available; check with operators when booking.

The cost of land-based watching is free, apart from the cost of getting yourself there. Eg. North Stradbroke ferries will charge ~$135, which includes the return trip for your car, driver and all passengers. Check our Getting Around section for further details re departures.
Cruises typically have bathroom facilities, and provide morning tea. Other refreshments may be available.
Wet Weather
Cruises may not operate in heavy rains or inclement weather when the chance of seeing whales is low, and rough seas may result in seasickness for some passengers.
Operating Hours
Tours operate daily in the peak whale watching season, from June - November.
Cruises range from 3-6 hours.
Handy Hints
- Take hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and drinking water.
- Take a pair of binoculars... they'll help you scan the ocean for the flume that appears from the whale's blowhole when it exhales.
- Best time of day is early morning; whales come closest to headlands on calm, still days.
- Medication for seasickness should be taken ~ an hour prior to joining the whale watching cruise.
How To Get There
Self-driving options (refer maps below) include:
- Cape Byron at Byron Bay: the best lookout is on the headland where the famous lighthouse is.
- Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island, just off Brisbane's coast.

Cruise tour operators are listed in the table below. Operators may provide pick-up from and drop-off to your Gold Coast accommodation.
Further Info
Refer tour operator table below.

Tour Operator
Sea Stradbroke Ferry
Tel 07-3488 9777
Whale Watch Australia / Sea World Whale Watch
Tel 1800 056 156
Gold Coast Whale Watching / Whales In Paradise
Tel 07-5538 5219

View Cape Byron Lighthouse in a larger map

Brief History of Whaling

Whaling was one of the first primary industries in colonial Australia.

Tens of thousands of southern right whales and humpback whales were killed and processed between 1820 and the 1960's, with whaling stations being set up at Byron Bay and Moreton Bay in the 1950's to aid this effort.

After much campaigning by animal protection groups, Australia became a signatory to international whale treaties in 1978, the year that all whaling operations in this country ceased.

Today, humpback whales and southern right whales continue to be classified as endangered species and are protected in Australian waters by the federal government.

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