The Gold Coast whale watching season in 2020 will commence in April and run until November. Most tour operators will commence whale watching tours in May or June once daily sightings are the peak and cease cruises by late October.

Here is everything you need to know about the annual humpback whale migration along the east coast of Australia.

 

The eastern Australian Humpback Highway

There is no other traffic that excites many ocean goers more than whale traffic! That is exactly what has been occurring on the eastern coast of Australia for the past decade. Each year between April and November, humpback whales can be seen in huge numbers as they travel on their migratory routes. After a summer of feeding on krill in Antarctic waters, these charismatic animals migrate north to sub-tropical waters where they mate and give birth. During their annual migration of up to 10,000 kilometres, humpbacks attract thousands of visitors to coastal towns such as Eden, Byron Bay, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Hervey Bay.

 

Annual whale migration

While the exact time of migration varies depending on environmental occurrences such water temperature, most humpbacks will migrate north from April to July and then return south until as late as November. Males lead the group, acting as sentinels and protecting the females and calves from potential predators such as orcas.

 

Whale population and migration routes

With populations of migrating whales increasing by an average of 10% very year, there may very well close to 30,000 humpbacks that make the 10,000km round-trip journey in 2020. Hunted for the majority of the 20th century, humpback populations were decimated to the brink of extinction and as little as 200 individuals (when whaling ended on the east coast in 1963, there were 100 recorded individuals left). The only reason is that whaling ceased to be profitable earlier on the west coast providing solace for the whales of that region. Now, with an Australian population of over 65,000, there has been a miraculous revival, in fact, the west coast of Australia has perennially seen a slightly higher number of whales than the east (40,000 vs 30,000).

It is thought that the reason some whales choose the east coast and others seem to prefer west coast is due to learned behaviour and evolution. One population believe the food opportunity and breeding grounds are superior on the west, others the east. Just like humans, whales choose the simplest route using the coast as a navigation aid. Mothers with new-born calves will visit areas they visited with their mothers and theirs before that.