It’s winter in South Australia, and if you’re anywhere near the coast, you have a reasonable chance of encountering one or even a group of our cetacean friends. Cetaceans are the family of marine mammals to which both whales and dolphins belong. South Australia’s extensive, sparsely populated coastline means much remains unknown about the movements and behaviors of whales in our waters. Reporting any sightings of these animals is of great value to science, and also has the potential to identify emerging aggregation sites of different species.
If you’ve been whale-watching in South Australia before, you’ll probably be familiar with these three aggregation hotspots. Whales and dolphins can also be seen in Spencer and St. Vincent’s Gulfs, the state’s South East and off Kangaroo Island and reports from these regions are just as important as those from known calving or aggregation sides.
The main drawcard species for whale-watchers is the Southern Right Whale which visits our sandy-bottomed and sheltered bays (like Fowler’s Bay and Encounter Bay) during its winter migration from Antarctica. This migration is made by hundreds of whales annually who calve and rear their young in our waters, before returning south as summer approaches.
Below (marked with camera icons) are South Australia’s three best known whale-viewing hotspots.
Head of the Bight / Nullarbor Cliffs
The largest aggregation of Southern Right Whales in South Australia occurs at the Head of the Bight, which lies on the Nullarbor Plain, on South Australia’s far west coast. There people can observe from viewing platforms or take a short chartered flight out over the water. Up to a hundred animals can be seen by visitors peering down from the clifftops. This is a spectacular location to visit, but is also the most remote site to view aggregating whales from. Even though this spot is frequented by tourists, it still pays to report your sightings.
At Fowler’s Bay, 150 kilometres west of Ceduna, whales can be seen from the shore or during 90 minute boat charters from Fowler’s Bay Eco Park. Tour operators Rod and Simone state that numbers of whales in the bay are increasing each year. This is regarded as an emerging location for whale-watching. Charters depart from the Fowler’s Bay jetty and sightings are guaranteed, in season.
Encounter Bay / Victor Harbor / Port Elliot
The South Australian Whale Centre is located at Victor Harbor, on the shore of Encounter Bay. The SA Whale Centre also features a museum which exhibits historical artifacts from the days of whaling and presents information on the whales of South Australia. We’ve come a long way, from targetting whales for their blubber, bones and oil as a commercial fishery, to regarding them with reverence and awe as we do today.
The map below is a helpful resource when reporting your sightings in this region, providing helpful grid references to make reporting your sighting as easy as possible. This region has large numbers of coastal residents and high tourist visitation, so you’ll often find the whales simply by following the binocular-wielding pedestrians.
Where do I report whale and dolphin sightings?
If you are lucky enough to see a cetacean in South Australian waters, the SA Whale Centre is the best and first place you should report it. This can be done by phone, by calling 1-900-WHALES, or by filling out this online form.
The form features simple multiple choice questions which will help you to provide details to help identify or confirm the species you’ve spotted. Southern Right Whales, Humpback Whales, Indo-pacific Bottlenosed Dolphins and Common Dolphins are the mainstay, however other species are recorded from time to time. Don’t worry if you can’t identify the species yourself- if you’ve made an accurate report, it’s likely to pique the interest of a cetacean expert, who may well be able to identify the animal for you.
Using the online form also allows you to upload any photographs you may have taken. Phone reporting is immediate and will help inform other whale-watchers of your sighting while the whale is still in the area.
Another great place to report cetacean (whale and dolphin) sightings is the Atlas of Living Australia.
This website is an extensive and easy-to-use national database of flora and fauna sightings. One great aspect of the Atlas of Living Australia is that when reporting a sighting, you have the ability to zoom right in to pin-point the location of your sighting using Google Maps and Google Earth. If you upload a photograph, the database can extract the time and date from your image, to make reporting super quick. If your camera has a built in GPS, it will even place your record on the map for you.
We have used this website extensively during the making of our documentary film Cuttlefish Country, not just to submit sightings of whales, but also records of many other bird, fish, cephalopod and mammal sightings we’ve made. We also use the Atlas of Living Australia to find out which species we are likely to encounter when exploring an unfamiliar environment, and to help us identify species we have filmed or photographed. The website is also becoming increasingly useful to scientists and all students of nature as the database grows.
What if I see a stranded, sick or injured whale or dolphin?
If you have information regarding a dolphin mortality, please contact the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary on (08) 8240 0193 or email AdelaideDolphinSanctuary@sa.gov.au. If you have discovered a beached whale or dolphin in South Australia, please call the SA Museum’s whale stranding mobile on 0412 708 012.