Winter Whale Watching in South Australia

by Inga Yandell

If you need a good reason to venture outdoors this winter, consider ‘whale watching’ along the coastlines of South Australia.

Some of the best opportunities for whale watching in South Australia are at Head of Bight on the Nullarbor (far west coast of South Australia) and in Encounter Bay on the Fleurieu Peninsula where Southern Right Whales gather to mate, give birth and nurse their calves in our winter time.


The South Australia Whale Centre have developed guidelines to ensure appropriate care is taken to protect these endangered giants as the popularity of this pastime continues to grow. Here’s their advise on Whale Watching the RIGHT way….

What makes whale watching in South Australia unique?


Southern Right Whales give birth in as little as 5 metres of water therefore come very close to shore and if undisturbed can stay in residence for 3-4 months nursing their calves until they are big and strong enough to make the long migration back to sub-Antarctic feeding grounds. This makes land-based sustainable whale watching available to everyone just 1-hour drive from Adelaide!

Migration and Conservation


Southern Right Whales feed in Antarctic waters in our summer before travelling an incredible 3-5,000kms to shallow, warmer waters off Australia, South Africa, South America and New Zealand southern coasts.

Whales visit Encounter Bay between May and November each year to give birth, nurse their young, mate and socialise. Females and their calves reside in nursery areas for up to 3-4 months.
Females are shown to have site fidelity and often return to calving and nursery grounds they have used in the past. When calves are born they average 4-5 metres in length and weigh about 1 tonne.
 Female adult Southern Right Whales can grow up to 80Tonnes and up 18metres long.

Southern Right Whales are classified as an “endangered” species under the Australian Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Act. Australia is the winter home to around 2,500 of the 15,000 or so Southern Right Whales remaining worldwide; still a small fraction of the estimated 60,000 – 100,000 that existed worldwide prior to whaling. Protection of the whales and their habitat in Encounter Bay is critical for conservation of this species.



Other Whale Species


Whale watcher also frequently see Humpback Whales at various locations across the Fleurieu Peninsula during the winter months from May to October. They are also migrating north from sub-Antarctic feeding grounds, but their destination is the warmer more tropical waters of NSW, QLD and WA further north.

Resident populations of both Bottlenose and Common Dolphins also reside at various locations along the coast including Victor Harbor and can be frequently spotted from Granite Island and The Bluff in Victor Harbor.



Sustainable Whale Watching Guidelines


The South Australian Whale Centre promote sustainable Whale Watching Guidelines to protect public safety and ensure that whales keep returning to our waters into the future. Whales are very sensitive to noise pollution and can leave an area if disturbed by loud and/or fast moving boats, other vessels and aircraft such as boats, jet skis, planes and drones.
There is a Jet Ski Restriction Zone in Operation around Victor Harbor from 1st May to 30th September.


The Encounter Bay Restricted Area adds further protection for Whales in Encounter Bay by restricting boats from approaching whales closer than 300m.

Planes and remotely piloted aircraft (drones) must be at least 300m from any whale or other marine mammal at all times.


For the latest whale sighting information across South Australia visit the South Australian Whale Centre Sighting Log or call the Centre on (08) 8551 0750.

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Inga Yandell
Explorer and photo-journalist, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide educational resources and a platform for science exploration.
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