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.
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.
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.Return from Whale Watching, Gold Coast to Animal Experiences
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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.
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:
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.
View North Stradbroke Island Whale Watching in a larger map
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.