The whales are back

Whale Watching Sydney NRMA Fast Ferry
Whale Watching Sydney NRMA Fast Ferry
20% off whale watching cruises

Sydney's famed humpback whale visitors are once again turning on the charm during their annual migration.

One of the world's longest and most spectacular migrations is getting underway along Australia's east coast. From mid-May through to the end of November, humpback whales swim the 5000km journey to their breeding and calving grounds in the tropics.

It’s a migration that, conveniently, anyone can watch from vantage points along the NSW coast. But the most spectacular place to experience it must be Sydney where, on very special occasions, whales will frolic in front of a dramatic city skyline or cruise past suburban beaches so sunbathers can watch them from the comfort of their beach towels.

Whale watching sydney NRMA

Professional wildlife photographer, Jonas Liebschner, has worked for 10 years with Whale Watching Sydney, which recently became a part of the NRMA. He has spent thousands of hours watching whales in both the seas off Sydney and inside Sydney Harbour, where he has photographed whales swimming all the way up to the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

“My dream is to photograph a whale breaching in front of the Opera House,” he says. “I’ve come very close and on two occasions, I’ve watched whales swimming near to the Opera House. Unfortunately, they didn’t jump. But one day…”

Sydney is one of the few cities in the world the mammals visit frequently and the number of humpback whales entering the Harbour has increased in recent years. The species was protected in 1966, after almost 90 per cent were slaughtered by whale hunters, leaving a perilously small population of just 5000. Happily, today, numbers are increasing, and when you head out to sea on a Whale Watching Sydney cruise, you’re almost guaranteed to find one.

Whale watching sydney NRMA

Jonas says passengers on a whale watching cruise are always thrilled with a whale encounter. “I know some people who come with us every week through the season. Once they’ve seen their first whale, they’re hooked.

“Humpback whales are really exciting to watch. You have a ‘fluke up dive’, where the whale dives deep and reveals its tail. But the most spectacular thing is the breach, where you see an enormous whale jump in the air and then fall back in the water with a huge splash. You can always get great photos,” says Jonas.

It’s not just for their acrobatic skills that humpbacks are renowned. The males ‘sing’ complex songs that usually last for 10-20 minutes but can be repeated continuously for hours.

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Whale watching sydney NRMA

Over the last decade, few people have observed whales on their annual migration as closely as Jonas with his camera. He has trawled through tens of thousands of whale photos and published the most memorable images in a new book, Whales of Sydney.

From countless hours spent on the deck of a whale watching boat, Jonas has become a passionate advocate for protecting these magnificent creatures and other marine wildlife. He’ll donate a percentage of every book sold to the Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia (ORRCA).

“Whale numbers are increasing but they’re still getting hit by vessels and caught up by nets so it’s important that we care for them and protect them,” says Jonas.

Take a cruise with Whale Watching Sydney

The best way to see whales is by boat. Whale Watching Sydney runs cruises from May to December to spot whales in the seas off Sydney. It’s almost guaranteed you’ll see a whale. If not, you’ll get a free return trip on your first cruise. NRMA Members receive 20 per cent off whale watching cruises and attraction combo passes.

This article was originally published in the Open Road magazine.