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Whale Watching

Whale Watching GUIDELINES

whale tail bullet icon Personal watercraft (such as jet skis) must keep a distance of 300 metres from any marine mammal (whales, dolphins, seals etc) in all coastal waters and are prohibited from launching and must not operate a PWC within the Victor Harbor Restriction Zone during whale season.

whale tail bullet icon Vessels within the Encounter Bay Restricted Area must not get within 300 metres of a whale.

whale tail bullet icon 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).

whale tail bullet icon If a whale is showing signs of distress or has a calf, vessels must not get closer than 300 metres.

whale tail bullet icon 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.

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 resort town of Victor Harbor, keeping staff at the SA Whale Centre's Information Booth very busy fielding their enquiries.

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.

For Whale Watching Guidelines,
see Regulations.


Southern Right calf nuzzling its mother 100m from shore at Middleton, South Australia. Southern Right calf nuzzling its mother 100m from shore at Middleton Point, South Australia.

Mother and child watching mother Southern Right with a calf resting on her belly above surface.
Mother Southern Right relaxing with a calf resting on her belly above surface.

The viewing opportunities stretch along the entire length of Encounter Bay, and many of the popular vantage points are the same as those once used by whalers to spot their prey. Southern Right whales have frequented the Bay for hundreds of years, and were hunted from these shores in the 1800s for their oil and baleen.

The Southern Right whales’ unique affinity for coastal inshore waters makes them the perfect species for land-based whale watching, and people can spend many hours viewing their playful antics. Sometimes the whales approach as close as 100m from shore, providing a bird’s eye view of their immense size and rotund, 18m body.

Southern Right whales visit the Bay each winter, when they find the local waters to be relatively warmer than their summering grounds in the sub-Antarctic. The annual migration to South Australia is a key part of the whales’ breeding cycle. They come to either find a mate, or to give birth and raise their calves in the protected bays and coves. Encounter Bay has long been recognised as a breeding and nursery area for Southern Right whales, and plays a role in the recovery of this endangered species. (See Whale Research.)

Commodore Point - a wonderful vantage spot Commodore Point - a wonderful vantage spot.

The 2009 season had over 120 days of sightings, when Encounter Bay was visited by groups of courting adults (up to 3 or 4 at a time) and mother whales with their very young calves. Only 5m at birth, a calf will stay close to its mother for the several months as it develops its swimming skills and puts on an average of 90kg of weight each day.

Whale breaching
Whale breaching.


Encounters with whales can extend well into October, and whale watchers are likely to see a variety of fascinating behaviour, including spy hopping (when the whales rise out of the water to have a look around), tail slaps and even the spectacular breaching, where the whale’s whole body is launched out of the water and thunders down with a crash.

The location and timing of whale sightings vary considerably in the Bay, and the South Australian Whale Centre at Victor Harbor helps people to know exactly where to find the whales.

The Whale Centre’s Information Booth, our Sighting Log and Whale Information Hotline on 1900 WHALES or 1900 942 537 all offer the latest updates on sightings in Encounter Bay and across the state. Whale watchers can also collect a free Whale Information Booklet from the Centre during the season, which includes a detailed map of Encounter Bay to help locate the whales quickly.

Southern Right Whale mothers and calves at Basham's Beach, South Australia.Southern Right Whale mothers and calves at Basham's Beach, South Australia.

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