Whale watching is the act of watching different whales and dolphins at their natural home, off the coast of Australia. Whale watching is primarily a leisure activity, but in some instances, it can also serve educational and scientific purposes. The behavior and characteristics of whales can often be helpful in determining the migration patterns and potential threats of different marine species.
In recent years there has been a growing interest and demand for whale watching in many parts of the world. There are two types of whales – the black and blue whales – that migrate through the seas each year. Most people are aware of the killer whales that inhabit the cold waters of Alaska, and the smaller grey, white and brown whales that can be seen along the shores of Iceland. But what most people do not know is that many other types of whales are also making the migration journey every year, including the great killer whales, which can be seen all year round off the coast of South Africa.
In Australia, whale watching is not just a hobby, it has become a significant part of the Australian cultural and entertainment tradition. It has even been recognized as a registered trademark. A great variety of whale watching tours can be found throughout Australia, with most beginning in the state of New South Wales (N NSW). Every month throughout the year, many different whale watching expeditions are organized in different locations and with different starting points.
Many local governments encourage the continued presence of whales and dolphins, both to be of ecological and conservation interest. In New South Wales, the Department of Primary Industries works with the Murray River Catchment area to provide support for the ongoing conservation of the local ecosystem. For example, the coastal waters of Murrumbidgee, Ebor and Foreshore are among the most fragile ecosystems in Australia, where the large predatory mammals, such as the blue whale, the coastal waters’ resident killer dolphins and their close cousins the bottle-nose dolphin, are vulnerable to over-fishing, which has decimated their populations over the past decade. These populations need to be supported so that they can continue to thrive.
Off the coast of Western Australia, humpback whales have been known to travel along the coastline. These massive creatures are the most abundant creature in the area and they make nightly visits to the beaches for a socializing experience. They usually sleep until they come ashore for breeding, which takes place in June and July. However, humpback whales make their way back to their pod each night from July to September. Other humpback whale sightings occur from March to November, when these animals give birth.
The large pods of pilot whales often make a stopover at the islands off New South Wales, providing entertainment and enjoyment for tourists. The pods travel long distances, stopping along the coastline to bask in the sun and feed. As a result, they form deep-water networks, like what is called an “Atlantic trail.” For whales viewing enthusiasts, an “Atlantic trail” can provide the perfect opportunity to see these magnificent creatures up close. Many guided whale watching trips are offered in this area from March through November.
Another major group of animals that are frequently seen during whale watching trips to Australia are dolphins. Diving programs are available, but the International Whaling Commission does not approve the practice of diving among the endangered species of these amazing mammals because of the risk of injury to their delicate bodies. Researches conducted by the IWC have found the number of incidences of stranding and deaths of bottlenose dolphins to be extremely high during certain seasons and events.
One of the strangest species of whale spotted by travelers on whale watching tours to Australia is the large, beaked whales. This is so strange because beaked whales have teeth that are located in the back of their mouths rather than on their lips as all other species do. These teeth are used to scrape algae from their skin and gills. When they go to the water to feed, they open their mouth widely to get rid of the algae. But when they return to the deep waters for air, they close their mouth again so as not to allow any of the waste matter to escape back into their system. They are a curious species that truly baffles scientists with their habits and appearance.