Humpback Whales Queensland

Queensland is no stranger to getting visitors during winter. As the humidity dissipates and the summertime rain settles for the season, hundreds of thousands of Aussies book their plane tickets to the sunshine state where winter is short, cool and mostly clear.

But as it turns out, it’s not just land-dwellers that seek out Queensland’s comfortable winter climate: humpback whales love it too. That’s right, the start of winter means it’s time for the arrival of the oceans’ most majestic creatures to the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef. For these humpbacks, it’s the midway point of a 10,000km round trip journey that they take each year from chilly Antarctic waters to frolic, mate and give birth. At last count, around 33,000 whales were spotted along the migratory route, otherwise known as the “humpback highway”.

For visitors and locals alike (human ones, this time), July through October is the best time to get up close and personal to this majestic species. Some might even say it’s the best time for the humpbacks to check out the humans— these highly curious creatures have grapefruit-sized eyeballs that absorb everything they see, and they really do seem to enjoy putting on a show. So while those at sea are likely to see plenty of those black arched backs that give humpbacks their names, they’re also likely to see pectoral fins waving, tails slapping, and maybe even a breach or two.

Before you hop on your tour boat impress all of your fellow whale-watchers along the way with these fast humpback facts:

  • If you’ve seen that scene in Finding Nemo, you might know that humpback whales “sing”. But did you know that when a male humpback approaches an unfamiliar pod, he often changes his tone to match theirs? Scientists aren’t entirely sure why, but some suggest that the humpbacks, like humans, just want to fit in.
  • If you see a pectoral fin or a tail slapping on the water’s surface, that most likely means the whale is trying to communicate with a nearby friend.
  • Humpback whales breach (lift over 40% of their body out of the water), to get rid of pesky barnacles that are stuck to their skin or to communicate to other whales when they are far away.
  • Humpback whale flippers can be up to 5 meters long.
  • The average humpback whale weighs about 40 tonnes and can grow up to 18 meters long.
  • While it may seem impossible to tell thousands of whales apart, there is one that stands out from the crowd: his name is Migaloo, and he’s a 30 (ish) year old all-white humpback that is known for traveling through Eastern Australian waters. He is so unique that there is Queensland legislation that actually protects him from onlooker harassment. If you’re lucky, you just might see him from a distance.
  • Otherwise, researchers identify individual whales by the markings on their tail flukes: it’s like a fingerprint.

If you’re a real whale aficionado, then treat yourself or your loved one to Lady Musgrave’s Whale Watching Season Pass. It gives visitors 6 tours over the course of the whale watching season for just $350— that’s more than 50% less expensive than buying each ticket individually! Otherwise if you’re just passing through, Lady Musgrave offers some fantastic half-day excursions as well. Or for the ultimate weekend packed full of adventure, book a 2 day reef and whale package to enjoy the very best of the Southern Great Barrier Reef – whales one day and snorkelling the next! The boat has experienced a 100% success rate, meaning they have not once returned to shore without seeing a whale on the water.

The humpback whales in Queensland have one of the longest journeys of any migrating mammal; but be sure to make time to see these gentle giants before October, or you’ll have to wait patiently until next season.