Every winter South Australia enjoys the return of Southern Right whales to its shores. The first arrivals in Encounter Bay are usually expected in mid-May, and are eagerly awaited by whale watchers who hope to catch a glimpse of the huge beasts from atop the cliffs and headlands of the area’s stunning coastline.
Thousands of visitors flock to the seaside city of Victor Harbor, and in some years, the whales have attracted up to 400,000 people to the area over the winter months. Only an hour’s drive from Adelaide, the southern Fleurieu Peninsula is a whale watcher’s paradise.
Whale Spotting locations:
Important Whale Watching Guidelines
Personal watercraft (such as jet skis) are prohibited from launching and must not operate a personal watercraft within the Encounter Bay Restriction Zone during whale season – 1 May through to 30 September. In all other waters they must keep a distance of 300 metres from any marine mammal (whales, dolphins, seals etc) throughout the year.
All other vessels within the Encounter Bay Restricted Area must not get within 300 metres of a whale.
Boats outside the Encounter Bay Restriction Area must keep a distance of 100 metres from a whale and 50 metres from other marine mammals (dolphins, seals etc).
If a whale is showing signs of distress or has a calf, vessels must not get closer than 300 metres.
If a person unexpectedly finds themselves too close to a whale they should either cut their motor or move away from the whale at a slow ‘no wake’ speed.
For current regulations, please refer to:
- National Parks and Wildlife (Protected Animals— Marine Mammals) Regulations 2010 Act (PDF 370 KB)
- Australian National Guidelines for Whale Watching
To report any person/s interfering with a marine mammal or within whale approach limits please download:
To report anyone launching or operating a JET SKI within the Victor Harbor Restricted Area during whale season, please contact:
- South Coast Marine Safety Officer, Pat Sparks on 0400 696 931
For more information on regulations contact the National Parks & Wildlife SA Victor Harbor office 08 8552 3677.
Enjoy Whale watching – From a Distance
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is reminding the general public to keep a safe distance when observing whales this season
Identifying Whale Species
Southern Right Whale
14 – 18 metres. Dark brown to black with white patches on belly; no dorsal fin; white skin callosities on head; V-shaped blow. A large, rotund whale. Endangered.
13 – 16 metres. Dark brown to black with white on flippers, flanks and belly; knobs on top of head and throat grooves; bushy blow; extremely long pectoral (side) fins. Vulnerable.
25-30 metres. Blue-grey mottled with light grey spots. The Blue whale is the largest animal to have ever lived on earth, even bigger than any dinosaur, and they can live up to 80 years or more, weighing between 100 – 200 tonnes.
12 – 18 metres. Black to brownish grey with white patches on mouth and belly; huge square head; heavily wrinkled skin; blow angles forward and to the left. Deep divers (up to 3km); feed on squid and fish. Classified as Insufficiently Known.
Orca (Killer Whale)
8 – 9 metres. Bold black and white patterns; tall, erect, triangular dorsal fin in males, more curved in females. Formidable predators eating fish, seals and even whales. Often hunt in pods. Classified as Insufficiently Known, but generally common and widespread.
Whales exhale air from the blowholes on top of their heads at great pressure, causing moisture in their breath to condense and create a cloud or “blow”. Southern Rights have a distinctive V-shaped bushy blow and usually blow every minute or so after being submerged.
The eyes are set low down in Southern Right whales because their natural predators and hazards come from below. However, they can lift their head and eyes above the surface when they want to have a look around. This is called spy hopping.
When whales wish to dive deeply or quickly, they will drop their heads and lift their tails out of the water, then swim straight down.
Whales most spectacular activity is when they launch themselves up out of the water then twist and fall back down. This is called breaching, and it is believed they do this for several reasons … to communicate, dislodge parasites, get a higher view, drive off predators or just play. Southern Rights usually only breach about three quarters of their bodies out of the water, but others such as Humpbacks can actually jump clear.
Tail flukes measure up to 5m across and weigh several tonnes. Whales will often lift them out of the water then back down hard with a loud crack and lots of spray. This is called tail lobbing, and is done for several reasons … to communicate, drive off predators or just for fun.
A less strenuous way for whales to communicate, is where they lay on their side at the surface and slap the water with their pectoral fin.
Whales frequently lay upside down, rolling on the surface with their pectoral fins stuck out for balance. There are various reasons for this … to simply rest or stretch; or, if a female, to avoid the demands of a hungry calf, or the advances of males during courtship.
Whales are able to suspend their tails above the water for quite long periods by dropping their heads and maintaining position with their pectoral fins. There are several reasons for this … to just rest, study the area around and below it or catch the wind and actually sail along. Also, if a female, to avoid the demands of a hungry calf, or the advances of males during courtship.