Whale watching in Byron Bay
Byron Bay is one of the top whale watching spots in Australia.
Humpback whales travel up the coast every year on their annual migration from their feeding grounds in Antarctica to their breeding grounds in the tropical waters just off the Great Barrier Reef.
When they have given birth and the calves are strong enough, they start the journey back to the Antarctic ocean.
With Cape Byron being the most easterly point on the Australian mainland, the migrating whales are closest to the shore at Byron Bay,which makes it an ideal spot for whale watching from the shore, especially up on Cape Byron Reserve, by Byron Bay lighthouse with it's high elevation making it a great vantage point from which to view the whales.
Whale Watching Season
The best time for whale watching in Byron Bay is between June and November.
Personally, we think it's better to watch the whales on their migration back down the coast as they have their calves with them then and so seem to take more time and stop off and rest more. The shelter of Byron Bay seems a welcome stop-off point for many.
The Journey of the Humpback whale
The journey of the Humpback whale starts around April in the Antarctic waters where, after a summer of feeding on Krill, these magnificent creatures begin their migration north up the east coast of Australia to the warm sub-tropical waters of North Queensland where they mate and give birth.
During their annual migration of around 10,000km they attract 1000's of spectators along the way at key vantage points - Byron Bay being one of the major viewing spots.
The timing of the migration period varies every year depending on a number of factors such as water temperature, predators, sea ice, food supply and location of feeding grounds.
Most humpbacks migrate north between June and August, returning to the Southern Ocean between September and November.
The migration is usually led by groups of young males with pregnant females and mothers with their calves bringing up the rear. The bulk of the migration in between is made up of Adults of breeding age.
Once not so long ago, the Humpback was only valued for it's oil and whalebone - now, thankfully, things have changed in Australia and most other places and these iconic creatures are now appreciated more while alive - both in environmental terms and economically - a lot of people rejoice in seeing these majestic creatures in their natural environment and are happy to travel far for the experience.
The Humpback is not the largest whale in Australian waters at 16 metres in length but many would say they are the most iconic.
Thankfully in 1978 whaling was stopped - not due to moral or ethical responsibility mind you but for economic reasons - the whale population had become so depleted it was financially viable to keep whaling as there were so few left..
In 1980 the Whale Protection Act was brought into force, and this was later replaced in 1999 by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act
Since the end of whaling in Australia the numbers have been increasing with recovery at around 10% a year. In 2006, the number of Humpbacks was estimated to be around 8000 whales.
The increase in numbers has been followed by an increase in curiosity with these creatures, leading to a surge in popularity for whale watching and whale watching tours.
There was the introduction of the Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching 2005. This was developed to help minimize the impact we have on whales, porpoises and dolphins and to give people a good opportunity to learn more about whales and enjoy them.
We now have regulations on how to behave around whales while whale watching such as we are not allowed to feed or touch them and all vessels must travel at low speed and keep a minimum distance of 100 metres away - although there is nothing to stop whales from coming closer to us to have a look - which happens often as they are an inquisitive species - almost as inquisitive as us..
How we can help protect whales and dolphins