Located in the heart of the Margaret River region, Geographe Bay is rapidly becoming known as one of the go to destinations in the world for whale watching tours. The calm, protected waters of the bay provide the ideal resting place for these mammals on their long journeys. Many new mothers will take the opportunity to rest and feed their calves up here while occasionally adult males use the bay to attract and court a willing female to mate.
The 3 whale species most regularly found in Geographe Bay are –
- Humpback whales
- Southern Right whales
- Blue whales
Many of these whales can be seen clearly from some of the great vantage points along the coastline at areas such as Castle Rock, Meelup, Point Piquet, Bunker Bay, Cape Naturaliste and Sugarloaf Rock. Often whales are seen within a few hundred metres off the shoreline and all three varieties of whales commonly seen here have times when they come in very close to shore. Southern Rights are usually the first seen in the season here and between June to October are the best times to see them. Humpbacks can be seen anytime between July to December. The rare Blue whales are seen later in the season from October to December and although these whales can be shy and hard to find, the lucky few who get a close encounter with these huge mammals have a lifetime experience to remember.
The Humpback whales are the most commonly seen whales in the South West with over 40,000 Humpbacks going through the bay each year. Named because of the distinct hump that shows as the whale arches it’s back as it dives they are the most active and acrobatic of the whales and often put on spectacular breaches and tail slaps, rolling, slapping of pectoral fins and generally having a “whale” of a time.
They are also noted for their haunting songs which are generally sung by the males to attract the attention of a nearby female to show he will make a worthy mating partner. Mothers and calves can also often be heard communicating to each other through hydrophones as they cruise through the bay on their trek south.
The maximum length of a humpback is 18 metres and a mature adult may weigh up to 45 tons.
The Humpbacks we get in Geographe Bay are almost always on a southbound trek as they are making their way to the cooler feeding grounds for the summer. Some whales will move through the bay quickly and methodically conserving energy while others will take their time and chop and change direction as well as putting on spectacular aerial displays with countless breeches and have seemingly endless amounts of energy. To witness a humpback whale in full flight is definitely an amazing sight and Geographe Bay is one of the very best places in the world to see it up close.
Southern Right Whales
The Southern Right whales are usually the first whales seen in Geographe Bay each year as they migrate up from their southern feeding grounds. They tend to come in very close to shore where they can give birth and feed their calves whilst keeping out of the way of predators. Mating pairs can also often be seen from the shore frolicking around in the shallow waters of Geographe Bay.
Early whalers specifically targeted these whales in the early days and actually set up the Castle Bay whaling station in the 1840s. The were named the Southern Right because they were known as the right whale to hunt. They were rich in whale oil which meant they would float to the surface or “right themselves” once they had died from harpoon wounds which made them a much easier target than the other whales and also much more lucrative as they would gain so much more oil from each whale than other types of whales.
Southern Right whales regularly swim quite close to the shore and move at low speeds which made hunting them easier in the early days. It was for these reasons that the southern right whales reached dangerously low levels and got very close to extinction in the mid 20th century. They are now recovering at a rate of about 7% per year and Geographe Bay is becoming well known as a nursery for these majestic creatures. Sometimes they can even be mistaken for a floating log from the shore such is the relaxation they can now experience in the bay without fear of human hunters.
An adult southern right can reach up to 18 metres in length and weigh as much as 80 tons. They have no dorsal fin and broad triangular shaped pectoral fins. They can also be distinguished from a distance as their twin blowholes produce distinctive V shaped blow. Although it is not common to see these giant adult southern right whales breach, when they do it is a sight and sound to remember as an 80 ton mammal launching out of the water makes a hell of a crash when it comes back down!
The Blue whales are the biggest of all the whales and are generally seen here later in the season when the waters start to warm. They travel great distances from the tropical waters where they give birth through to the polar regions where they feed. The Blue whales are very streamlined and glide through the water with ease at great speeds. They tend to travel through the bay quite quickly and will pass Busselton usually at around 30 metres of water and then come right in close around the Dunsborough and Castle Rock areas where they are often seen in around 10 metres of water. From there they will follow the coastline along to Cape Naturaliste surfacing often in the shallow waters until they round the cape and disappear into the deeper water.
The Blue whales we get here are known as Pygmy Blue whales which grow slightly smaller than the true Blue whales at around 24 metres long and around 100 tons in weight. They are a mottled bluish-grey colour, have a very small stubby dorsal fin, a broad U-shaped head and slender pointed flippers. They can be distinguished from a distance by the huge vertical blow which may go up to 9 metres in the air. They do not breach and put on aerial displays like many other whales but just seeing the rare blue whales up close is an unforgettable experience.
Other Marine Mammals
There are several other whales such as Killer whales and Minke whales that can be seen occasionally in Geographe Bay and other parts of the Nagari Capes Marine Park well as other cetaceans such as Bottlenose dolphins and NZ Fur Seals which can also be seen on our Cape Naturaliste Wilderness Cruises.