Whale watching in NSW

Whale watching can be a thrilling experience both from the shore and afloat. Vessel-based whale watching is increasingly popular in NSW.

Australian waters are home to a large number of unique and magnificent marine mammals (cetaceans), including 45 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Some of these species are permanent residents, while others migrate from their summer feeding grounds in the Antarctic to the warmer waters of the Australian coast during the winter.

Every year, humpback whales and southern right whales migrate along the NSW coastline. They head north throughout June and July, and return southwards from around September to November.

Whale watching can be a thrilling experience both from the shore and afloat. Vessel-based whale watching is increasingly popular in NSW. However, whales require 'personal space', and harassment may severely stress them - possibly causing accidents if the whales feel threatened, with the potential to harm both the whales and humans.

Australians have long recognised the importance of whales, dolphins and porpoises to our unique marine ecosystems. The Australian Government has made whale, dolphin and porpoise conservation a priority and is a world leader in the protection and conservation of these species.

Whales are protected animals, and if you go out on the water, you should follow the Environment NSW regulations for whale watching. They've been designed to make whale watching enjoyable and safe, without interference to the whales.

To help remind boat owners of the set distances to keep clear of whales, Roads and Maritime Services and the National Parks and Wildlife Service have combined to produce a sticker outlining these requirements.

Whale and dolphin watching distance off sticker
Whale and dolphin watching distance off sticker

Whale and dolphin watching distance off sticker information

Whale approach distances

300m if calf is present

100m if only adult whales

Approach at an angle, slowly move past and be sure to veer away from the path of the whale(s) when leaving.

Dolphin approach distances

150m if calf is present

50m if only adult dolphins

Approach at an angle, slowly move past and be sure to veer away from the path of the whale(s) when leaving.

Advice to skippers

  • Go slow when within 300m of whales and 150m of dolphins
  • No more than three vessels at a time should approach whales or dolphins. Wait for your turn and don't barge in
  • Start your approach at an angle of at least 30 degrees to their direction of travel
  • If a whale approaches your vessel:
    • Slow down to ‘no wash’ speed
    • Move away or disengage your vessel's gears
    • Make no sudden movement
    • Minimise noise.

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