Call Me Ishmael, Watching the Whales

They’re back. It’s that wonderfully awe inspiring time of year when those of us lucky enough to live close to the ocean get a ring-side seat to watch one of nature’s glorious events. It is the yearly migration of whales and their calves, heading towards the Antarctic waters, where they will stay until June, in the rich feeding grounds of the great southern ocean.

The Australian Government department of Sustainability, Water, Enviroment, Population and Communities, have set out a nationwide operation CETUS to protect migrating whales and their calves.

What are they protecting them from? Not whaling ships, but whale watchers, and understandably so, after the disturbing events myself and others witnessed during last year’s migration.

breaching whale

Sadly others were not so whale friendly, after witnessing people paddling out to the whales with their boards, kayaks or swimming as close as they could, I wondered why they couldn’t just be content to watch.

Whales are much bigger than us and the regulations are for the whales and our safety. So what are the regulations?

Whale watchers in boats are not allowed to approach closer than 100 metres to any whale. Limits also apply to swimmers and overflying aircraft. The caution zone for vessels in the area is 300 metres, no more than 3 vessels in a caution zone at any one time and vessels should operate at no-wake speeds within the zone.

Avoid disturbance to female humpbacks and their calves by sticking to the regulations to protect them from ship strike and to reduce the risk of the calves getting separated from the mothers, do not enter the caution zone if calves are present.

Hefty fines apply for breaching the regulations, up to $110,000 and / or two years imprisonment. And if that doesn’t scare you, our whales haven’t come back and I cant say I blame them.

For more information on whale watching guidelines and the caution zone, go to

Fiona Hammond is a journalist who graduated from the John Morris journalism academy. Fiona lives on the south coast of NSW Australia and writes human interest stories and opinions, about gardening, sustainability, fishing, the environment and our planet.