Whale Watching

Whale Watching thumbnail

2017 Season 20 May to 01 November - Pre-season Sale now on from $39

Grab the best bargain of the year, with a Whale Watching pre-season certificate from only $39 per person (normally $79)

  • Buy now, book later - open-dated gift certificates  OR
  • Or Book your date now - select your cruise and date below
  • Pre-season $39 tickets are valid for travel to 30 June 2017

2016 was the most amazing whale watching season of all time. Every year there are more whales which leads to more pods travelling closer together, resulting in more social interaction between the pods. And where there's interaction, there's action! Breaches, muggings, tail slaps and spy hopping - all fully explained by your experienced commentator.


Whale Watching cruises are an extraordinary opportunity to see the gentle giants of the sea on their annual migration. Your cruise begins at Circular Quay, Sydney Harbour and makes its way past the Opera House, the beautiful eastern suburbs and outside the Harbour headlands to open water. Southern Right, Orca and Minke Whales all visit Sydney's coastline, but it's the Humpbacks that come in great numbers and love to show off with breaches, tail slaps and even a sneaky wink when they are feeling extra curious. Afternoon cruises operate daily, with additional morning departures on weekends 20 May to 01 November 2017.

Every cruise comes with our Whale Guarantee, or cruise again for free*


2017 Whale Watching Season 20 May - 01 November 

Combine the sights of Sydney Harbour with an open water cruise through the Heads to find the gentle giants of the sea

Whale Watching - Morning Cruise - Preseason sale on now from $39pp
See Humpbacks and the occasional Southern Right Whale on their annual winter migration. Morning cruise departs weekends. 

Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise - Preseason sale on now from $39pp
Afternoon departure operates daily throughout the Whale Watching season. Don't miss out on this must-do experience in Sydney.

Taronga Zoo & Whale Watching Cruise 
Combine two amazing Sydney experiences - Taronga Zoo and Whale Watching - with this unique cruise & attraction package.


Frequently Asked Questions

For information About Whales and Whale Behaviour please visit our About Whales web page.

Are whales guaranteed?
We have a 95%+ whale sighting success rate. The Whale Guarantee applies when a whale is not sighted during the cruise. In this case passengers can cruise again in the same season for free on a standby basis confirmed 24-hours prior, subject to availability.

When is the best time to go Whale Watching in Sydney?
The whale watching season operates between mid-May to early November. Whales are occasionally seen outside of these times off Sydney, but they are limited in number and difficult to spot. During the early months of winter (mid-May, June and July) many whales migrate north to warmer waters for breeding and to give birth. In August they may be heading in either direction, while from September most begin the journey south to colder climates.

What whale species am I most likely to see Whale Watching in Sydney?
The Humpback Whale and the Southern Right Whale are the most commonly spotted species along the coast of Sydney, however other whale species cruise our coastline including:

  • Blue Whale
  • Minke Whale
  • Fin Whale
  • Sei Whale
  • False Killer Whale
  • Orca or Killer Whale
  • Sperm Whale
  • Pygmy Right Whale
  • Pygmy Sperm Whale
  • Bryde's Whale

How close can we get to whales?
There are strict guidelines on how close vessels of all kinds, from kayaks to cruise boats, can approach whales. It also depends if there are calves in the pod and the number of vessels in the area. As a guideline, the approach distance can range from 100m to 300m. This however does not stop whales from taking matters into their own hands for a close look of us! At all times, Captain Cook Cruises operates with the safety and enjoyment of both our passengers and the whales. 

What time is the best time of day to see whales?
Any time is a good time to see whales from the water as we can alter our position with the sun.  

How big is the boat?
All our Whale Watching vessels are ocean-going catamarans with two passenger decks and spacious outdoor and indoor seating. The large windows provide a great view should you wish to remain seated inside. 

Will I see baby whales?
We see many mothers and calves during the whale watching season, however it all depends on whether they want to see us.

Can I interact (feed/swim) with the whales?
The best way to interact with whales is simply to observe them. They have much to share with us if we listen closely and pay attention. Feeding and swimming with the whales is not permitted.

Are we imposing on the whales?
Whilst we are eager observers, ultimately it’s up to the whales how much interaction they have with us. Whales can dive from 2 to 20 minutes, in any direction, and can out manoeuvre a spectator vessel if they choose. Mostly the whales are as curious of us as we are of them.

How many whales am I likely to see?
There really is no way to predict. Usually we sight several pods. On a good day you may see 10 whales, a pod of up to 100 dolphins, fur seals, penguins and seabirds such as an albatross. Our record is 30 whales on a single cruise. However, it only takes a connection with a single whale to make your cruise a memorable experience.

How do you spot the whales?
We hire very tall people. Just kidding. Some trade secrets we like to keep :0)

Is commentary included?
All whale watching cruises include expert commentary from marine specialists with a passion for whales. We carry some of the most experienced commentators on Sydney Harbour.

Are there facilities for children?
All children must be escorted by adults. Children are welcome to cruise, however please keep in mind that you are on the vessel for up to 3 hours and sometimes children do get restless. Infants under 4 years are free of charge but not recommended on open water cruises. 

Will I get seasick?
This is an open water cruise and you will experience sea motion. We recommend you eat lightly before and during the cruise. Travel sickness tablets are generally most effective if taken prior to the cruise. We only operate when we believe you will enjoy the cruise, however conditions can change quickly. You can also refer to our Predicted Comfort Levels & Weather web page for a 7-day forecast.

Are there bathrooms on board?
Yes, all vessels are fitted with toilets.

Where do cruises depart from?

  • Circular Quay - Wharf No.6
  • Please visit our Whale Watching page on the website for latest timetable information

How do I get to my cruise?
Circular Quay is conveniently located near most city hotels and major city bus, rail, ferry and taxi stations. There are many parking stations in Circular Quay.  For google maps visit our Find Us web page. 

Check-in & Boarding
Boarding passes must be collected at least 30 minutes prior to departure from the company’s ticket offices. To ensure speedy and efficient check-in, please ensure you have completed the Passenger Contact form prior to arrival as this is a legal requirement of all open water cruises.

What should I wear?
Please dress according to the weather - it will often feel colder at sea.

What can I buy on board?
A selection of soft drinks and bottled water available for purchase onboard, subject to change. Guests are more than welcome to bring their own light snacks. Please note as our vessel is licensed, there is strictly no BYO alcohol. 

Can we bring our own drinks?
All vessels except Rocket Ferries are licensed premises with bar facilities available. We do not permit BYO alcohol on any vessel for scheduled cruises.

What if I have a group?
Group discounts can be applied to full priced Adult and Child fares on standard cruises. Discounts are not valid with special offers or special events unless otherwise advised.  

Are seats assigned?
Seating is not assigned for sightseeing cruises. All vessels feature spacious outdoor and indoor seating. The starboard side is usually closest to the shore and the port side closest to the harbour action.

What if it is raining or the weather is bad?
Rain alone usually does not affect Whale Watching Cruises. As this is an open water cruise, swell and wind can effect safety and comfort. Whale Watching cruises are therefore subject to cancellation due to weather and other operational requirements. Please ring+61-2-8062 3623 from 7.15am on the day of your cruise for the latest information. If your cruise is cancelled by the operator, passengers may (1) rebook another Captain Cook Whale Watching Cruise in the same season or (2) seek a refund from the original place of purchase or (3) a credit can be made with Captain Cook Cruises towards another cruise within 12 months of original date of travel. If purchased through an agent, please refer to the agent’s terms and conditions. We operate in sheltered waters, 365 days a year, regardless of the weather. The interior of the vessel features comfortable all-weather lounges with expansive viewing windows.

When do I need to pay?
Full payment is required at time of booking. Special payment options are available for groups. Please refer to the Group terms and conditions applicable for your booking. 

Date Changes and Cancellation Fees
Please refer to our General Terms & Conditions for details. For special offers, discounted fares and special events please refer to the Special Terms & Conditions applicable for your booking.  


Typical whale behaviour includes

Breaching: A much more spectacular way of announcing its presence is for a whale to breach. With 2 or 3 beats of its huge tail the creature hurls itself up through the surface sometimes clearing the water completely, and then falls on its back with a tremendous splash. Breaching is thought to communicate position to others. The splash can be heard for several kilometres.

Calves: A humpback calf normally swims along in close company with its mother.

Head Lunge: When a whale breaks the surface and falls forward instead of backward the action is called a head lunge.

Spy Hop: Humpbacks are curious, and often pop their head up above the waterline to look around. The creature raises its head vertically from the water until the eyes are exposed, maintains that position for a short period of time and then lowers its head back into the water. This common behaviour is thought to be used mainly for orientating themselves with the shoreline during migration.

Pectoral Fin Extension: Humpbacks are often seen waving their huge oar-like fins above the water. The creature lies on the surface and lifts one or both of its pectoral fins up out of the water depending on body position. Once extended, the fins can be waved about.

Tail Extension: Sometimes humpbacks are seen with their tail flukes extended above the water for up to 15 minutes at a time. This behaviour is rare but could be to do with feeding, as a calf is often seen bobbing around its mother's tail at this time.

Tail Slapping: Whales like to lift their huge tails high above the water and slap them down on the surface making a tremendous splash. This can be heard for great distances by others and is probably associated with marking position. Because of the formidable power of the tail, this behaviour should be interpreted as aggressive and the creature should be given plenty of room.

Peduncle Slap: The peduncle is the muscular part of the body nearest to the tail flukes. It is used in a variation of the tail slap where the tail is slapped in a sideways movement like a massive karate-chop. This movement is a sure sign that the creature could become aggressive.

Tail Cocking: Tail cocking is another sign of aggression that is used when stressed. An aggressor can cock its tail up in the air and then bring it down heavily on an opponent in a disagreement over territory. Humans should keep well clear.

Tail Slash and Tail Swish: Two further movements of the tail involve slashing from side to side in the water and swishing on the surface to create turbulence. Both these activities are also associated with aggression. Crews of whale watching boats watch for these behaviours as signs to move away.

Pectoral Stroking: Pectoral fins are the equivalent of human hands. They are frequently used to stroke the body of another of the same species, probably during courtship and mating. Mothers and calves also stroke one another as a display of closeness.

Pec Slapping: The humpback has the largest pectoral fins of any of the great whales. The fins alone can weigh up to several tonnes! When brought down onto the water from the extended position they create a forceful splash which can be heard from quite a distance, both above and below the surface. Pec slapping is a common behaviour among humpbacks, thought to be used as a form of communication. 

Accessibility for people with a Disability Policy 

Special Conditions apply to all Special Offers

Select cruise and date below View Special Offers

Options Sat May 20 Sun May 21 Mon May 22 Tue May 23 Wed May 24 Thu May 25 Fri May 26

Other Cruises - Special Events

New Years Eve
December 31
Australia Day
January 26
Valentines Day
February 14
Christmas Day
December 25
Boxing Day
December 26
Vivid Festival
May - June
Melbourne Cup
Mothers Day
Fathers Day
Seniors Festival
Christmas Parties
November - December
Christmas in July
Big Ships in Sydney
Year Round
Food Festival
Good Food Month
School Holiday Fun
Great Offers for Kids
Whale Watching
May - November
Earth Hour
March - June 
Sydney Royal Easter Show
March - April
Gift Certificates
Order online & save 

93 % approval from 28 responses

5 months ago

Service: Originally booked Zoo / Whale watching cruise but was forced to terminate cruise after zoo visit as boat continuing on to whale watching was full (!). Being a family with two young kids we were left unimpressed. After complaining, we were given another set of tickets (as well as full refund - hence the "Good" rating) as compensation.

Product: Due to various reasons we never got to redeem the compensation tickets so unfortunately, we still don't know what the experience would be like. Would love to give it another shot next year, so perhaps we'll try again.

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

Service: Good value for money

Product: The guide was very knowledgable and amusing

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

lliketothanyalltheverygoo djobforhelppelopewhogets easickonwhalewatchingcru ise

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

5 months ago

Service: Brilliant trip I loved it

Product: Yet again, all I can say is thank you so much for the experience

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

Service: Good service on board

Product: Good commitment in looking for whales

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

Service: We enjoyed the service of Captain Crook. The employees were really enthusiastic and friendly.

Product: However, whale watching was a bit disappointing. We met a group of whale for about 15 minutes in 2.5 hours watching time. The rest we saw was breaching only.

Looking at other cruises, we would now prefer them as they were actually looking for and following whales, getting closer to them. Their customers definitely enjoyed it compared to us.

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

Service: The services were good we didn't pay for any extra service and greatly enjoyed the whale watch.

Product: The guide for the whale watch was wonderful he did his very best to make sure we saw a number of whales migrating out of Sydney harbor. He had an abundance of information regarding the area and the whales. Overall they did a fabulous job!

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

Service: Brilliant customer service - the guide for the trip was great.

Product: Brilliant - the captain seemed to know exactly when to follow and when to sit and wait and we saw lots of whales.

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

Very good service , quite happy to do it again

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

Service: Saw whales, all OK.

Product: Saw whales, all OK.

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

5 months ago

Service: verygood

Product: allpwhoeroplewithverynice veryheipwithpeolepwhitwh ogetsick

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

5 months ago

Service: It would be better and more efficient if they accepted online tickets. I bought 2 tickets online, yet still had to queue up the morning of the whale watching to get the physical boarding cards. The worst thing about this experience is that they have a dedicated person trying to sell tickets to tourists coming by or in the queue and he let them skip the queue on numerous occasions giving priority to those who has not bought any product rather than those who had already purchased but for some bizarre reason still had to queue up. What should have been a 5 min wait in the queue turned into a 20 min wait as this salesperson pushed at least 4 different groups of people ahead of us.

Product: I fully understand that it is touch and go with an activity like this and while I thoroughly enjoyed the boat ride in the sunshine and the crew were very professional, there were 2 things I was disappointed with. We were on the top deck at the back seat and the crew member advised all the people at the back that we wont be able to hear her giving her talk as she will be at the front of the boat but not to worry as she will come down afterwards to give us all the info about the whales. She never did come down so I learned absolutely nothing about whales. The second thing was that we only initally saw a whale and its baby very far away in the distance so could not really see it. The main tour was looking for this whale that you could never really see properly. Heading back to harbour we did have 5 mins seeing the whale very close to the coast. For a 3 hour trip and only having seen 5 mins, I think they should have offered us to go again for free or a voucher towards any other activity that they do.

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

5 months ago

Service: Excellent vessel for the task. 3 of us on the cruise. Staff made my 82yr old Mum at home and were very friendly and helpful. Brother over from England; he loved it. Been on several vessels up and down NSW coast. This was the best.

Product: What a fantastic venue for whale-watching. Superb views of Sydney Harbour as a bonus. We saw whales and it was Much appreciated that the vessel got close enough not to need binoculars. All in all an excellent service and will surely go again. Nice, kind and coeurteous Staff.

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

5 months ago

Service: Very cheerful helpful staff. Great commentary.

Product: we had a very entertaining afternoon and the whales were very accommodating coming right up close to us.

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

Service: good

Product: good

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

Service: Very poor service, the ticket collection was very confusing I had to provide contact information that was confusing.

Also the crew on the boat didn't seem to care that many people were sick and had nothing to offer, I was concerned someone would fall overboard, I don't think the crew were alert to this.

Product: Didn't really see anything

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

Service: Loudspeaker quality could have been a bit better. And with so many international guests, maybe delivery could be a bit slower. I am Anglo-Saxon though not Austrlian and I didn't always catch what was being said.

Product: See above. Much info, many whales--good afternoon!

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

Service: I would recommend this cruise

Product: We had a wonderful afternoon and enjoyed watching the many whales that we saw. Thanks to all the crew

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

Service: Prompt, friendly.

Product: We had an excellent afternoon whale watching! Saw lots if whales close up and crew were very informative and friendly. Would recommend highly!

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

Service: Friendly efficient staff. Clean boats and did what I wanted to do with my time in Sydney

Product: Wow! I saw whales! Great trip and was particularly impressed with the fact the skipper was wearing breast cancer ribbon shoulder stripes...as a survivor that meant a lot to me personally. Thanks for making my stay in Sydney one to remember.

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

Service: Booking was really easy (online), check in staff friendly and efficient. Very happy.

Great value for money.

Product: Had an awesome trip, skipper and crew were spot on and the whales were simply amazing!

Just one niggle - and it's not your fault! Another operator was using the same boarding warf as CC and came in about 5 mins before our trip. Naturally we all started lining up and the host had to shout to get back (he was a little rude - I think he was trying to be funny!). Perhaps some signs or different wait areas would help!

Your crew were great - friendly, welcoming and very accommodating. Had an absolutely magnificent time......... thanks.

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

5 months ago

Service: I found it a little confusing that after you bought a ticket online, you still had to get in a queue at the quay to get the final ticket. Otherwise very satisfied.

Product: The crew did not only show us a whale but also drove to a place where sea lions were resting. It was amazing!

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

6 months ago

Service: thoroughly enjoyed the cruise

Product: faqntastic!

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

6 months ago

Service: a good team with a great angagement

Product: a little bit nearlyer to the wales weare be better but ve watching of of delphins and sealions

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

6 months ago

Service: Great time

Product: Great time

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

6 months ago

Service: Good service good guide..all perfect..as I explaned below..

Product: Very nice experience !! We saw whales, the guide was a very frindly and prepared Young girl. A very good guide.

And Capitan Cook Cruise is an honest Group, because I had booking tour on website for 23 september but tour didn ' t start for bad wheather..and they changed me (Free..I don ' t spent fore change) tiket for 24. thank you !!!!!!

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

6 months ago

Service: Enjoyable afternoon...a bit on the wavy and chilly side, but good views of the wildlife

Product: Were able to catch site of several whales! Would of loved one to come closer to our boat, but we respect their space and understand.

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

6 months ago

Service: Departure screen on dock did not include our departure which resulted in concern/confusion. I had to ask a company service agent about this to be told that this is normal and that I should listen for announcements. However, these were not completely clear.

Product: Excellent guide. The (relatively high) number of people on the boat occasionally made it difficult to get a good photo of the whales.

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

View more reviews