Where to watch humpback whales and southern right whales in Australia during winter

Welcome to whale season. Get to know these iconic visitors from the Southern Ocean, meet the people who study them, and find out how you can become a citizen scientist.

Within minutes of leaving Sydney Harbour, Vanessa Pirotta spots a whale gliding through the waters beyond the city’s towering sandstone cliffs.

“It’s a blow, we’ve got whales!” she shouts.

Water droplets from the whale rise into the air, as the dark shadow of the whale’s back sinks under the surface.

As the days grow shorter and colder, and icy winds signal winter is on its way, humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) begin their annual migration to northern breeding grounds.

Dr Vanessa Pirotta Find out more about Dr Vanessa Pirotta’s work on Southern Ocean Live on Tuesday, June 21 on ABC TV and iview.(Supplied: Northern Pictures)

Standing on the deck of a boat with a camera slung about her neck, Dr Pirotta is using a drone to collect samples of humpback whale snot, which provide a snapshot of the animal’s health and the ocean they swim in.

Long-term information gathered by whale watchers, boaties, wildlife photographers and tour operators can also help scientists learn more about these majestic Southern Ocean animals and help protect their habitat as they recover from decades of exploitation.

Let’s get to know two of the most iconic whales that visit Australia in winter — then take a journey around Australia to see what we’re learning about them.

You can also use these links to jump straight to your state and find out how you can help.

What whale is that?

A humpback whale breaches Humpback whales have light coloured patches under their fins, belly and tail.(

Getty Images: Jason McCawley

)

Growing up to the size of a bus, humpbacks have a small dorsal fin on their grey-coloured back, and light-coloured markings under their long pectoral fins, belly and tail. 

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