By Scott Ellis
The seaside might not be everyone’s first thought for a winter outing, but if you brave the cold and head to the South Australian coast right now, expect a treat.
In fact expect a lot of very big treats.
From June to October, the South Australian whale watching season is in full swing as various species of the giant marine mammals make their way along the coast as part of their annual migrations.
From Victor Harbor, just an hour south of Adelaide on the Fleurieu Peninsula, to the spectacular 90m high cliffs of the Head Of Bight near the Nullarbor Plain in the state’s far west, more than 100 whales have been reported so far, most southern right whales who have travelled to the region to give birth to their young.
It is, said Haydyn Bromley, presiding member of the Aboriginal Lands Trust who operates the Head Of Bight Interpretive Centre, a whale bonanza.
“The numbers fluctuate from year to year, but at the moment it’s a particularly good time to see the whales,” Mr Bromley said.
“The viewing facility at Head of Bight is directly adjacent to the calving area where the whales raise their young, so at times you can be standing there as close as 50 metres away from a whale and calf.
“Across Australia this is probably the closest point you can get to a whale and her calf in the water!”
A short detour off the Nullarbor Highway, Mr Bromley said the area was an absolute must for anyone driving through in either direction.
“You can drop by and grab a bikkie and a hot drink, make your way down to the viewing platform and watch the whales,” he said. “It’s definitely a must-have experience!”
While a number of different species visit the region – including a pair of killer whales seen near Victor Harbor in early July – the two most common whale species seen along the South Australian coast are the humpback and the southern right.
Telling the two apart gets easier with practise, but there are a few simple signs that can help.
“The southern right has no dorsal fin, shorter side flippers and “callosity” or white patches around its head,” explained a whale watcher from the SA Whale Centre in Victor Harbor.
“The humpback has a small dorsal fin about three quarters of the way down its back, a jagged tail, longer, thinner side flippers and of course that classic hump.”
If you’re lucky enough to spot a whale, report the sighting to the SA Whale Centre via their website or by calling 1900 WHALES.
“That way a whale watcher will be assigned to verify the sighting, log what species it is and post the details on our site so people know where to go to see them.”
It also helps record the whale numbers for conservation work, she said.
“With the southern rights for example, the callosity is like a fingerprint so we can compare photographs with previous years and see which whales are returning and if they have a calf. It’s fun to spot whales, but important too.”
For a bird’s eye view of the whales, Chinta Air runs scenic flights over the Nullarbor and its neighbouring coastline as part of a Whales & Wheels package. It’s available from 1 July to 30 September 2017.
Departing Adelaide Airport for Ceduna, the trip includes 4WD hire, a boat cruise with Fowlers Bay Eco Tours, and a charter flight over the Bunda Cliffs to the Head of Bight Marine Park. During peak whale season, you could spot up to a hundred southern right whales there, according to the operator.
For those who prefer to travel by sea, Fowlers Bay Eco Tours offer whale-watching expeditions throughout winter, too. They report frequent sightings of southern right and humpback whales, common and bottlenose dolphins, seals, sea lions, little penguins and rare birdlife.