Photograph by Benedetta Rusconi/Grand Tour/Corbis
During the Australian winter, southern right whales migrate from Antarctica to the southern coast of Australia, where they calve and nurse their young. Venturing within a hundred yards of the shore, southern right whales are the country’s most frequently sighted whales, though humpback, sperm, and blue whales, as well as orcas, can be found farther out to sea. Southern rights can in theory be sighted almost anywhere along the coast from mid-May to early October, though June through August is their main season, and their breeding grounds are the place to head.
Great Australian Bight
This is one of two major breeding grounds in Australia—the other is in Western Australia. The towering Bunda Cliffs, a spectacular precipice where the vast Nullarbor Plain meets the ocean, make an ideal lookout. Vantage points dot the Eyre Highway on the way to Eucla in Western Australia, but the viewing platform at Head of the Bight offers prime position. You are guaranteed to see whales—often just below the cliffs—from June to August each year, when 60 or more whales and their calves call this spot home.
Centered on the seaside resort of Victor Harbor, this breeding ground draws plenty of whale-watchers thanks to its proximity to Adelaide. A good first port of call, the South Australian Whale Centre in Victoria Harbor, has three floors devoted to whales, the area’s whaling history, and a 3-D whale movie. To see the real deal, walk across the causeway to the far side of Granite Island, where penguins also nest. South of the town, the Bluff has elevated viewing. To the west, Freeman Knob at Port Elliot is another good vantage point, where whales can be seen right around the bay to Goolwa Beach and beyond. Whale-watch boat tours also operate but cannot go within 325 feet of a whale, and a strict exclusion zone protects the calving and nursery area in season.
Fowlers Bay has a smaller nursery area 125 miles east of Head of the Bight. Fowlers Bay Eco Tours offers whale-watching. Whales pass by Kangaroo Island, one of the state’s biggest wildlife destinations, and you can look for them along the cliff tops of the Flinders Chase National Park and the south coast. Whales can also be seen at the southern tip of the Yorke Peninsula and sometimes breed there, and along the Limestone Coast in the southeast during their migration. Robe and Port Macdonnell in the southeast are noted viewing spots.
Best Bet: Head for the tops of hills or cliffs for the best chance of seeing whales, and bring binoculars and a telephoto lens. Southern right whales rarely move more than six miles per hour, so once spotted they tend to be stay around. Track their direction and, when they go under, look for them to surface a few minutes later along that line.
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