Once hunted to virtual extinction – an estimated 90% were wiped out due to commercial whaling before a moratorium was introduced in 1966 – Humpbacks that travel along the east coast are staging a remarkable comeback. With an annual growth rate of around 10-11%, researchers from the University of Queensland estimate the current population sits around 20,000.
While Byron Bay was known as a whaling town from 1954 to 1962, where “a total of 1146 Humpbacks and two Sei Whales had been slaughtered”, it is now regarded as one of the world’s best whale watching locations.
Each year, between May and November, southern hemisphere Humpback whales (megaptera novaeangliae) travel north from their Antarctic summer feeding grounds, past Cape Byron headland, and on to their breeding and birthing grounds in the sub-tropics. At more than 2,500-kms, this is considered one of the longest migrations in the animal kingdom.
In fact, you don’t have to venture far from Elements, with breaching whales visible from where we hold the First Light Club overlooking Belongil Beach.
Between Captain Cook Lookout, the lighthouse and the surrounding cliffs, it’s little wonder Cape Byron State Conservation Area is a popular whale-sighting spot. Grab a coffee at the lighthouse café and enjoy the panoramic views as the whales pass gracefully by (ask one of the volunteers if you can borrow their binoculars if you’re having trouble spotting them). Cape Byron Walking Track also offers plenty of vantage points, as does the viewing platform at the end of the Three Sisters walking track in Broken Head Nature Reserve, which is a few minutes drive south.
To get closer to the action, Byron Bay Whale Watching, Byron Bay Charters and Blue Bay Whale Watching will take you out into the water to see these majestic, curious creatures in their native habitat. The trips are usually small and personalised, with expert guides on deck to answer questions you might have about the whales, along with other local sea creatures including dolphins, sea turtles and migratory seabirds. As a bonus, each of Whale Watching Byron Bay’s vessels is equipped with a hydrophone so you can listen to the haunting whale songs.
Want more inspiration for things to do in Byron Bay? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Byron Bay.