The NSW Sapphire Coast has earnt a reputation for being the “humpback highway” but it’s not just humpbacks that are drawn to this spectacular coastline in search of food.
As the weather warms up, the South Coast waters become awash with marine life, particularly krill – a whale’s favourite food.
Krill is one of the staple foods of humpback whales. The huge creatures lunge through the water with their mouths open, much like dragging a net through the water. They scoop up krill, plankton, small fish and pilchards.
The spectacle begins early in September, with adult whales. As the season progresses, families can see mothers and calves feeding, nursing and slowly making their way to Antarctica. Humpbacks can eat up to a tonne of food a day and calves drink 450 litres of milk.
The humpbacks aren’t the only attraction here. The Sapphire Coast is a favourite spot for up to 17 different kinds of Orca or Killer Whales.
The local indigenous Yuin people had a special relationship with the Orca. They believed the killer whales were the spirits of deceased Indigenous warriors. At the time, Orcas were known to herd grampus (a dolphin-like cetacean) onto the shores of Twofold Bay, the resulting bounty providing food for the people. Yuni rituals honour the Orca and these seafood feasts.
After the European whalers arrived on the South Coast, Orcas would compete with them for the whale carcass. The Yuin taught the white men how to work with the Killer Whales and use them to alert the hunters to the presence of a whale. This extraordinary relationship is the subject of an ABC documentary – Killers in Eden and photos from the time can be seen at the Eden Killer Whale Museum.
These days, the Orcas and the Humpbacks are tracked purely for sight-seeing. Researchers use photographic tracking of dorsal fins, flukes, the undersides of tails, scars and even skin colour to identify individual whales. They also track whales using their sound. Toothed whales use echolocation-type clicks that are unique in tone.
At this time of year, you’re almost guaranteed a sighting. In fact, many whale watching tours have a money-back guarantee. Even if you don’t spot a whale, you are likely to see dolphins, seals and penguins.
These are the best options for families to spot a whale on the NSW Sapphire Coast.
Sail with the Whales – Bermagui
Head out to sea under sail on Pelican 1. This 19-metre catamaran and her crew specialise in marine research and education, including studies on Blue and Sperm Whales. Tours take 3 hours and run daily from 9am.
Cat Balou Cruises in Eden
Cat Balou Cruises operate from Twofold Bay in Eden. Whale watching tours usually run for three hours. Cat Balou has the option of a shorter two-hour tour for families. Most of the trips will have encounters with seals and dolphins.
Freedom Charters Eden
Freedom Charters offers daily whale watching tours from Eden. Tours depart daily at 8.30am and return at 11.30am during the season. Freedom’s tour boats take a maximum of 12 passengers. So you can be sure that your family will get the best view of the whales.
Merimbula Marina bills itself as the best whale watching on the South Coast. Families can choose from multiple cruise operators here. Whale watching tours run from August to November. Families can spot Humpbacks, Southern Rights, Minke, Bryde’s, Blue and Orcas whales as well as dolphins, seals and penguins. Sometimes, you don’t even have to leave the bay before you’ve spotted something fantastic.
The best whale watching spots on land
Don’t want to cruise? The Sapphire Coast is one of the few places on the East Coast of Australia where the whales come in super close to the shoreline. Grab a pair of binoculars, a picnic and head to the nearest headland – you’ll have a good chance of spotting a whale.
Check this list of the best vantage spots to view whales from the land: Www.sapphirecoast.com.au/nature/whales/shore-based-whale-watching/
Eden Whale Festival
Eden will host it’s annual Whale Festival from November 2 to November 2 2018. The Whale festival has performances, exhibitions, music and food. The kids will really love the fireworks on Saturday night.
More details: Edenwhalefestival.com.au