When do the whales come back to the Gold Coast?


The question we get asked the most during the whale off-season is, “when are the whales coming back to the Gold Coast?“. We have been counting down since the end of last season for their return, and it’s still a little while yet. Our gentle giants make their way back to the bay in late May and return back to Antarctica in early November. With population numbers increasing every year, the humpback highway is a hub of activity during these times. 

The humpback whale migration is one of the longest journeys of any animal on the planet. From Antarctica’s cold waters, the whales embark on a 5000km return journey to north Queensland. They pass through the Gold Coast and slow down to rest in the protected waters close to the coastline. It is here that they put on a magnificent display of breaching, tail slaps, and peduncle throws.

When is the best time to see them on the Gold Coast?

The Gold Coast whale watching season begins in late May ending in early November. You can experience some of the best whale actions in the world during this time. As whales are wild animals, it can be hard to predict what behavior you’ll come across, but that is the exciting part of whale watching. If you’re eager to find cute baby humpbacks, they are seen in the bay from late July.

Where are humpback whales coming from?

Although they spend a fair amount of their life in Australia, humpbacks are residents of Antarctica. It’s in these polar waters that they feast on an abundance of krill to fatten themselves up for their journey to the warm northern breeding grounds.

Why don’t they breed in Antarctica?

Whales have a thick layer of fat called ‘blubber’, which keeps them warm and protected in the cold Antarctic waters. They develop this blubber by gorge feeding krill during the summer. However, as the season ends, the water temperature begins to drop, and it is time for the whales to migrate north. They must move to warmer waters as newborn calves are born without any fat stores, meaning if they were born in Antarctica, they’d quickly turn into a whale-popsicle. Calves are born in the tropical waters of north Queensland, where they feed on their mother’s nutrient-rich milk, which is bright pink with a yogurt-like texture. On their return journey home, the baby whales will have enough fat stores to survive.

A new born calf swimming with their mother.

What do they eat on their migration?

Antarctica is a humpback’s only feeding ground, so they will fast for their entire 5000km migration. They eat enough krill and plankton before they depart to sustain themselves during their journey, consuming up to 4-tonnes of food a day. You can often determine their direction of travel by the whale’s size; northern travellers are quite fat and large, whereas returning whales show more skin and bone.

Who will I see?

Humpback whales arrive at different times depending on their age. Immature adults, who are much smaller and often seen travelling together in pods, and the previous season’s mothers and calves are the first to head north. Pregnant females and mature males stay back in Antarctica longer to fatten themselves up as much as possible. They do this because females must have enough fat to sustain both herself and her calf, whilst males want to be as big as possible to impress their prospective mate.

Excited passengers being ‘mugged’ by a humpback whale

We feel the anticipation building with reports of early sightings off the coast and can hardly wait until late May to officially begin our whale watching season. Be part of the whale’s incredible journey and book your seat now.


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