Whale watching in Tasmania
There was a time when residents of the Hobart suburb of Taroona complained of being kept awake by the sounds of whales snorting in the River Derwent. Today, the mere report of a sighting sends a thrill of excitement through the community.
During the nineteenth century the whaling industry was big business in the developing colony of Van Diemen's Land. At the peak of the boom in the 1830s, there were enough whales in Tasmanian waters to support 32 shore-based whaling stations, from Recherche Bay in the south to Bicheno on the east coast.
There were nine whaling stations in Hobart alone; so great were the numbers of massive southern right whales in the Derwent that it was considered dangerous to cross the estuary in small boats.
The ravages of whaling drove many species to the edge of extinction. Today, the southern right whale is among the rarest of whales, but since the end of commercial whaling its numbers have begun to increase and whale sightings in Tasmanian waters are becoming more common.
Whales, of course, are mammals. Like their land-based cousins, whales are warm-blooded, breathe air and suckle their young on milk. Along with dolphins, they belong to a group of mammals collectively known as cetaceans.
Where to see whales in Tasmania
Most whale sightings occur on Tasmania's east coast. Although this may be due to the higher population of human observers in the east, it's likely that the humpback and southern right whales prefer the calmer waters of the east coast. Frederick Henry Bay and Great Oyster Bay on the east coast are both excellent vantage points for whale watching.
The best time to see Humpbacks whales is between May and July when they migrate northward to breeding areas off the coast of Queensland and Western Australia and between September and November on their return southward to their sub-antarctic feeding grounds.
Southern right whales migrate north from June to September to the waters of southern mainland Australia and return southward between September and late October. A proportion of the population gives birth in Tasmanian waters.
Sadly, not all encounters with whales today are positive: there are more strandings in Tasmania than in any other Australian state. Most occur in the Circular Head and Macquarie Harbour-Ocean Beach areas.