Whale Watching Season May - 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
See Humpbacks and the occasional Southern Right Whale on their annual winter migration. Morning cruise departs weekends.
Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise
Afternoon departure operates daily throughout the Whale Watching season. Don't miss out on this must-do experience in Sydney.
Whale Watching Explorer
2-Day Hop On Hop Off Harbour Explorer Cruise Pass plus afternoon Whale Watching Cruise.
Taronga Zoo & Whale Watching Cruise
Combine two amazing Sydney experiences - Taronga Zoo and Whale Watching - with this unique cruise & attraction package.
SeaLife Aquarium & Whale Watching Cruise
This combo includes two great Sydney experiences - SeaLife Aquarium entry and a Whale Watching cruise outside Sydney Heads.
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. Please 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.
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