In the early 19th century, Hobart residents complained that the sound of whales in the River Derwent kept them awake.
Approaching ships sailed close to shore to avoid crashing into the animals.
So abundant were the whales that whaling was one of Tasmania’s first industries. At its peak in the 1830s, it was Tasmania’s largest industry, with 32 shore-based whaling stations operating, from Recherche Bay in the south to Bicheno on the east coast. At one time there were 34 whaling ships working out of Hobart alone.
While the ravages of whaling drove some species to the edge of extinction, the mammals are well and truly back in Tasmanian waters. In 2010, a southern right whale gave birth in the River Derwent – the first birth in the river since the 1820s – and in 2020 unprecedented numbers of whales were recorded off the east coast.
Where to spot 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 humpback and southern right whales prefer the calmer waters of the east coast.
The best time to see humpback 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 south to their subantarctic feeding grounds.
Southern right whales pass by Tasmania from June to September as they migrate north to the waters of southern mainland Australia and return south between September and late October.
Other whales seen in Tasmanian waters include orcas, long-finned pilot whales and sperm whales.
Whales are regularly spotted on ocean trips along the east coast, such as those run by Wineglass Bay Cruises, Wild Ocean Tasmania and Tasman Island Cruises. Southern Sea Ventures runs a seasonal Whale Watch Escape kayaking trip off Turrakana /Tasman Peninsula.
Sightings are also common along east-coast beaches, including Bicheno.
The East Coast Whale Trail is a collection of coastal roadside stops between Teralina / Eaglehawk Neck and The Gardens north of St Helens. Each stop has information signs about whales, and the chance of spotting the animals offshore.
Get further perspective on whales by strolling the boardwalk at Cape Tourville on Freycinet Peninsula. This 20min circuit has markers across the boardwalk showing the length of various whales.