Skip to main content
As the weather cools and winter approaches, something wonderful happens: humpback whales embark on their annual migration up the east coast of Australia to Hervey Bay in Queensland! Many people are fortunate enough to catch glimpses of these majestic creatures along the Victorian coast as they pass through.

If you haven’t had the chance to see whales in person or have only admired them through photos and videos online, don’t worry—we can help! Below, we’ll tell you how to spot these magnificent creatures, share tips and tricks for identifying them, and explain how you can participate in citizen science by reporting your sightings.

Some key starting points for all whale watchers, regardless of experience:

  1. Use binoculars
  2. Be somewhere high
  3. Wear warm clothing

Whilst whales are frequently seen all throughout winter, it is important to realise that whales don’t have schedules they stick to and so some days you may not see any whales at all. To give yourself the best chance at spotting a whale, you can follow the tips below.

Using binoculars

Binoculars are a very useful tool when looking for whales from the land. However, some people can feel quite sick when using binoculars for too long. It’s often a good idea to scan the water without binoculars initially, and zoom in on suspicious waves or strange shapes with the binoculars. From here you should be able to distinguish whales from waves and small fishing boats.

Waves or small clouds near the oceans surface that look a bit odd are worth getting the binoculars in action. What you are seeing might indeed be the ‘blow’ from a whale. This is the cloud of exhaled vapour from the whale’s lungs each time it breathes out in to cooler air (like our ‘foggy’ breath when we are waiting for whales in winter).

Getting somewhere high

Positioning yourself on a clifftop look out or other place with higher elevations can give you a better viewing field. Some of the best land based locations to see whales in the Two Bays region are:

  • Barwon Bluff
  • Port Phillip Heads
  • Cape Schanck
  • Phillip Island (The Nobbies, Pyramid Rock and Cape Woolamai)
  • The Bass Coast

Whilst whales do occasionally venture into Port Phillip and Western Port, they will primarily cruise past our more southern and open ocean coasts.

Whale species you are likely to see in the Two Bays region

The two most common whale species seen in Port Phillip and Western Port are humpback whales and southern right whales.

Humpback whales travel north from Antarctica, where they spend the summer feeding. They migrate to Queensland to mate and calve. With a gestation period of 12 months, a female that mates this season will have her calf when she returns north next year. Mothers with new calves are the last humpbacks to travel south from Queensland, allowing the calves to fatten up and strengthen their bond with their mothers before encountering predators like killer whales and returning to colder waters.

Southern right whales migrate to the sub-Antarctic during summer and exhibit high site fidelity regarding breeding. Calves born in places like Logans Beach typically return to the same area to have their own calves—although, in recent years, a few whales have deviated from this pattern.

There’s a couple of ways you can tell the difference between the two species, one of which is through their “blows”. Humpback whales have a ‘bushy’ upright blow, and southern right whales sport a v-shaped blow. How often the blow occurs depends on what the whale is doing. Humpback whales might breathe up to five times over a couple of minutes, and then dive for five or more minutes.

The other two easy ways to tell humpbacks and southern right whales apart are by their:

  • Pectoral fins (flippers)
  • Dorsal fins (the fin on its back)

Humpback whales have really long pectoral fins and a small dorsal fin. Southern right whales have short, squarish pectoral fins, and no dorsal fin!

Humpback dorsal fin


Humpback pectoral fins


How to become a citizen scientist

You too can help us research and protect whales in Victorian waters by reporting your sightings and submitting fluke images. The Dolphin Research Institute hosts the Two Bays Whale Project, a citizen science initiative aimed at accurately recording sightings of whales within Victorian waters.

If you’d like to participate in the project and contribute to conservation outcomes, please report your whale sightings in Victorian waters here. We are interested in receiving sightings from all over Victoria, but have a strong focus on the central Two Bays region (Port Phillip, Western Port and adjacent waters from Barwon Heads to Inverloch).

Additionally, the Two Bays Whale Project has created and managed the only publicly available Humpback Whale Identification Catalogue in Victoria, which relies on the submission of humpback whale fluke images taken by citizen scientists like yourself. You can read more about the catalogue here.