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Whitsunday Whales

WRAY briefer, skipper, and all-round nautical expert, Mike Dicker, blogs about the Whitsundays from his unique on-the-water perspective.

It’s official – this year’s migrating humpback whales have arrived in the Whitsundays – and what a season it’s already shaping up to be!

The sheltered waters of the Whitsunday islands are among the best places in the world to see whales in the wild.

Every year between June and September, these gentle giants call into the Whitsundays on their 10,000km voyage from Antarctica to Tropical North Queensland and back.

Our shallow, warm seas are the ideal breeding grounds and nurseries for newborn calves; a bareboat holiday ensuring you’re in the right place at the right time for a one-on-one encounter of the kind not experienced anywhere else.

Being on your own bareboat means there are no crowds to jostle with when these spectacular marine mammals decide to put on a show.

You will often spot them as you make your way around the islands and if you are lucky, from the comfort of certain anchorages.

Hearing whale song through the hull of your charter boat at night is one of the most magical experiences imaginable.

And when one of the fifth largest creatures on the planet decides it is curious about you and approaches close to your boat, it’s an interaction you will never forget.




At least 17,000 humpback whales make the migration along the Australian east coast and every year that number grows.

Humpbacks are the most commonly sighted whale species in the Whitsundays, with adults reaching 12-16 metres in length.

A humpback whale can live to 100 years and whale song can travel for hundreds of kilometres and produce up to 170 decibels of sounds.

Whales can hold their breath for up to 40 minutes and swim at top speeds of 9-10 knots.

Instead of teeth, they have baleen plates inside their mouths.

Before the whales leave Antarctic waters they fill up on tonnes of krill, not eating on the migration at all and instead living off their own body fat.



Breaching: There is nothing more impressive than seeing a 40-tonne marine mammal launching itself out of the water and crashing back down to the surface with an almighty splash.

Spy Hopping: A curious humpback will raise its head vertically out of the water to look at you and establish orientation with the shore.

Fin slaps: It is common to see whales slapping their fins and flukes on the surface of the water, as many as 30 times in five minutes.

Blowholes: Whales blow excess water several metres into the air as they rise to the surface to breathe. The sight and sound of the spray will often initially alert you to their presence.

Tail flukes: Whales arch their backs before they dive and when a whale dives deep its tail will appear vertically above the water before slipping gracefully below the surface of the sea.


Perhaps the most famous whale of all is Migaloo, a pure white adult male humpback, whose name means ‘white fella’ in some Aboriginal dialects.

The hyper-pigmented or ‘white whale’ is so rare he has been given extra protection by the Queensland and Commonwealth governments and is sometimes afforded his own police escort.

Until September 2011 he was thought to be the only white whale in the world, after which an all-white calf emerged right here in the Whitsundays.

Named after the Whitsundays’ white-sand Chalkie’s Beach in a public competition, our humpback calf ‘Chalkie’ was first spotted by local fisherman Wayne Fewings in Cid Harbour.

He is said to have a signature black spot on his tail.


The best times to see whales are when conditions are calm.

Without the distractions of wind or waves it is easier to hear their blows and spot the sprays.

Vessels usually report sightings and their locations over the VHF radio network.

During the northern migration the whales tend to head out wide around the top and east of Hook Island, while on the return trip they seem to hug the coast.

Whales have been known to come into a number of Whitsunday anchorages including Cid Harbour and Blue Pearl Bay.


For many people, seeing a whale in the natural environment is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But to minimise risks such as inadvertently separating mothers and calves, legal approach distances and regulations are in place.   

The general rule is to keep your distance and let the whales approach you.

Zones are divided into ‘Caution’ and ‘No Approach’.

The caution zone is an area of 300 metres surrounding the whale in which boats cannot travel at speeds of more than six knots or create a wake.

The no approach zone covers an area of 100 metres around the whale and 300 metres in front and behind.

These distances are increased to 500 metres for white whales.

If a whale comes inside the no approach zone you must stop the boat and switch the engines off, or withdraw at a speed less than six knots.

Watch for any signs of distress such as sudden changes in behaviour, diving often rather than staying at the surface and aggressive tail slaps.

And remember – as the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection states: “A fully loaded semi-trailer weighs 36 tonnes. A full-grown humpback whale weighs up to 45 tonnes. You wouldn’t stand in front of a moving semi-trailer so why would you put your boat in the way of a whale?”


Aside from the opportunity to see humpback whales in their natural habitat, winter is a wonderful time to come sailing in the Whitsundays.

Daytime temperatures remain between 24–26 degrees and there are beautiful sunrises and sunsets to enjoy.

Our top three items to pack for your Whitsunday winter charter are:

  • Camera – to capture the sunrises, sunsets and visiting whales
  • Binoculars
  • Wetsuit – to keep a little warmer in the water

To book your next bareboat holiday in the Whitsundays contact us today on 1800 075 000.


Whales in the Whitsundays