Whale Watching in Sydney

More than 45 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises can be found in waters surrounding Australia. In NSW, it’s common to see humpback whales, southern right whales and dolphins, but you may also spot orcas, blue whales, minke whales and sperm whales.

Each year, from May to November, more than 30,000 humpback and southern right whales make their way along the coastline, in their annual migration from Antarctica to the warmer waters of the Pacific. There are excellent vantage points in Sydney where you can see these giants of the deep at play.

Whale watching vantage points

Whales often cruise close to shore, so they are easy to spot, and have even been known to pop up inside Sydney Harbour. Cape Solander in Kamay Botany Bay National Park is one of the best vantage points with a covered viewing platform and information boards. The cliff-top walking trails from Bondi to Coogee and the Federation Cliff Walk from Dover Heights to Watsons Bay offer fantastic viewing opportunities.

Two humpback whales passing through Sydney during their migration up the NSW coastline

Take the ferry to Manly for the North Head lookout, where whales can also often be spotted. Farther north are Bangalley Head at Avalon Beach and Barrenjoey Lighthouse at Palm Beach for more great views of these marine mammals in their element.

Whale watching cruises

If you want to get even closer to these majestic creatures, hop aboard a whale watching cruise. During the season, cruises depart every day from Circular Quay, Darling Harbour and Manly. Book a cruise with Whale Watching Sydney, Oz Whale Watching or Ocean Extreme and head out into the harbour or past the heads to spot the whales in deeper waters.

People watching out for whales aboard a Captain Cook Cruises cruise vessel off Sydney Heads

Whale behaviour

Once you see a whale, there is a good chance you will see it display one or more of the following behaviours:

  • Breaching - where most or all of the whale's body leaves the water.
  • Lobtailing or tail slapping – where a whale lifts its tail flukes out of the water and then slaps them down onto the surface of the water.
  • Spy-hopping – where a whale lifts their head and part of their chest vertically out of the water so that their eyes are just above the water line.
  • Blowing – where a whale blows air, water vapour and mucus as they surface to take a breath.
Humpback whale breaching near Sydney Heads on its annual migration, Sydney

What to take with you

As whales travel the coastline in the colder months, wear warm clothing and bring a blanket if you will be spending time in one spot. It’s a good idea to bring a camping chair to sit on too. Don’t forget to wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen and bring your camera or binoculars.

For more information about whale watching in Sydney, visit the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service website.