Whale Watching

Whale Watching thumbnail

2017 Season 20 May to 01 November

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.

Videos

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*

QUICK LINKS

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 - On now from $49pp
See Humpbacks and the occasional Southern Right Whale on their annual winter migration. Morning cruise departs weekends. 

Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise - On sale now from $49pp
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 Mon Jun 26 Tue Jun 27 Wed Jun 28 Thu Jun 29 Fri Jun 30 Sat Jul 01 Sun Jul 02

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
November
Mothers Day
May
Fathers Day
September
Seniors Festival
March
Christmas Parties
November - December
Christmas in July
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
Biennale
March - June 
Sydney Royal Easter Show
March - April
Gift Certificates
Order online & save 

80 % approval from 30 responses

Date
Rating
14 hours ago
4/5

Service: Would by again. Flat ocean made it difficult for the whales to want to breach, but the commentary was good,

Did not hear if tea or coffee was available which would have been a nice touch.

thanks for the experience.

Product: Calm ocean, pleasant time. tea, Coffee or water would have been good.

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

23 hours ago
4/5

its good

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

4 days ago
5/5

Service: The whole crew was so helpful, it was not just whale watching, but more informative about the characteristics of humpback whale, sperm whale and the cruise ride was a roller coaster! (The crew had indeed informed us well upfront about the rough tides in the ocean even before we had started and we wanted to experience those rough tides! :-))

Would strongly recommend!

Product: Value for money and worth every penny!

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

4 days ago
5/5

Service: Ich kann diese Fahrt nur bestens empfehlen.

Die Crew ist mega freundlich, hilfsbereit und bestens gelaunt.

Was mir am Besten gefallen hat war, dass der Captain länger auf See blieb als alle anderen, da wir erst sehr spät Wale entdecken. Er hat uns dankenswerterweise genug Zeit gelassen, diesen doch sehr seltenen Moment mit unseren Kameras und Smartphones festzuhalten.

Die Mannschaft ist super bemüht, kann aber gegen Seekrankheit kann auch sie nichts ausrichten.

Bitte lest euch Ratschläge durch, um zu vermeiden, dass ihr nur über einem Beutel hängt..... man ist immerhin auf einem Ozean....

Herzlichen Dank an die Crew

Martina

Product: Wie zuvor beschrieben war es ein unvergesslicher Moment....

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

4 days ago
5/5

Fun cruise and well organized

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

4 days ago
4/5

Service: the whole experience was first class

Product: very informotive and good value

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

4 days ago
5/5

Service: Very good service and very friendly employees

Product: On time and very mindful employees. We saw whales and learned about them as well

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

5 days ago
2/5

Service: I took the time to fill in the Emergency Contact form online for my 2 bookings for 6 adults and 3 children, but on the day of collecting the boarding tickets from your booth, your staff said she could not find my completed online form and made me do a handwritten one on the spot. Why should that happen? I even received an email acknowledgement thanking me for filling in the online form - I just didn't think to print that out!

Product: Half of my passengers vomited, some of them a few times. Yes, we understand there's nothing anyone can do about the weather/tides but after the cruise we spoke with some other fellow passengers who were NOT sea sick during the cruise, and most admitted that the catamaran was too small for the open sea, and this was made worse by the waves. Well, while the waves are beyond anyone's control, at least with that forecast in mind, Captain Cook should have considered a bigger vessel. So busy vomiting and sitting very still in the open deck that most of us just couldn't even think about watching the whales (though from the commentator's speech we know he found a few).

Response from Captain Cook Cruises: Dear Cindy,

Thank you for your recent review of our Whale Watching PM Cruise on Sydney Harbour. We were very disappointed to read that we did not reach your expectations as we often receive good feedback on that cruise. Safety is our primary concern and we apologise that we were unable to locate your completed form and therefore you were requested to fill another one on check-in. All our whale watching vessels are licensed to operate in open-water and the vessel you were on has operated our whale cruises for a number of seasons and we do remind all our clients that these are open-water cruises and that sea sickness may happen and to take pre-cautions to prevent or minimise this possibility.

Once again, thank you for your feedback.

Kind regards,
Head of Customer Services
Captain Cook Cruises

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

1 week ago
5/5

Service: 开始看到了几条鲸鱼,后来吐的已经没力气看了,如果你没有seasick的问题的话尽管来看好了:)

Product: 观鲸的经历很难得,值得去一趟,一定要提前备好seasick的药,一定

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

1 week ago
4/5

Service: Service great Commentary great Weather turned poor hard to view any whale movements through the windows Needed WIPERS

Product: commentary great .weather turned poor visibility through windows poor need wipers

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

1 week ago
5/5

convenient with good service !!

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

1 week ago
5/5

Prepared staff, interesting and organized cruises.

I can't imagine a better way to visit Sydney Harbor

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

2 weeks ago
4/5

Service: Commentary was really throughout the whole whale watching. Several whales were seen but waters was quite choppy in big sea.

Product: Smooth purchase but slight hiccup on submitting details. I have sent it online but not captured on system.

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

2 weeks ago
3/5

Service: The staff in the night were exceptional- very friendly and quick with the food. Our waitress overheard that it was my mothers birthday and made the night extra special. The music was also lovely. Getting a drink was a little difficult as the staff were so busy serving food. Overall the night would have been a 4/5. The reason I rated a 3 is the online booking staff member. I sent an enquiry regarding a non alcoholic package for the designated driver and a few other questions regarding view and children packages. We went back and forth a few times but I felt the responses were very generic and I did not feel I was listened too. It felt like a generic computer response. The only reason I decided to give you a go was a previous experience with your company otherwise I would have went else where based on that experience. I hope this feedback helps.

Product: Staff were wonderful- informative and very caring (one of my party was not well). We saw lots of whales and I felt my comfort and experience was the crews main priority. Thank you.

My only suggestion would be to include an afternoon tea service (even for an extra few dolllars). There were a few other companies that do this.

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

2 weeks ago
5/5

Service: It was an awesome 3hr ride. Despite seeing just the back of the whales and the tail, the cruise to the pacific ocean was so cool. My family enjoyed it.

Product: Provided the best service they committed.

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

2 weeks ago
4/5

Great to see whales up close and educational and entertaining commentary by Paul.

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

2 weeks ago
4/5

Service: On time and good services

Product: First experience watching whales during cruise. It's worthy!

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

3 weeks ago
4/5

Service: Good service

Product: Good feeling for clearing sky

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

3 weeks ago
5/5

Thanks for a really great day out on our beautiful harbour. We were able to get up close and personal with the whales and the staff of Captain Cook Cruises were all lovely and friendly and knowledgable. Our commentator was full of great info about the whales, Sydney and the harbour and was funny and engaging too.

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

3 weeks ago
5/5

Service: Friendly, knowledgeable crew. The boat was clean and the trip was punctual and just the right length of time

Product: As already stated above. Same feedback

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

3 weeks ago
4/5

Service: Excellent comentator and his two assistants were very helpful. Boat excellent for whale watching, particularly as upstairs was protected from wind but there was plenty of fresh air.

Product: Good comentary, good attention by staff, successful sighting of whales. The boat was comfortable - upstairs sheltered from wind but plenty of fresh air.

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

3 weeks ago
5/5

Service: we thought that he hole whalewatchig experince was great the comentry was excellent and the crew were helpful at all times

Product: day all together was excellent comentry was very good and crew was very helpful

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

4 weeks ago
3/5

Service: Commentator was good but the cruise was just average. Didnt see much whales and only from afar. A little boring.

Product: Boring cruise. Hardly saw any whales.

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

4 weeks ago
2/5

I booked the cruise at good price but had to cancel this morning of the event as my husband fell it.. I left a message to this affect and didn't even get a call back from anyone.

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

4 weeks ago
4/5

Service: The trip was the second day of the whale watching season. We were a little bummed that only one whale was seen. I awarded a good rating as the captain and crew were professional and did everything in their power to provide a good experience. The tour guide was well informed and entertaining. On the trip out and back he provided more information on Sydney harbor's history and features than the guide on the harbor tour we took two days before.

Product: Value was great. We booked on-line in advanced for a 50% discount.

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

4 weeks ago
4/5

Boat was ok apart from the toilets, which were dirty and one of the doors didn't lock.

Commentary was good.

The offer of drinks and biscuits was either too quiet or didn't happen as we didnt see anyone being offered drinks and biscuits.

We saw 2 whales, which was good.

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

4 weeks ago
3/5

Service: The captian/commentator was very charismatic. Reminded me of jack nicholson. Great guy :D. The experts picked up from Taronga zoo were also very friendly. Shame we only saw one lazy whale, but you can't help that.

Product: Good package; good value!

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

4 weeks ago
2/5

Service: We bought tickets for the Vivid 1 hour cruise . The organisation on the night was dreadful . We stood in the queue for a good 20 minutes begore we realised we were in the wrong queue and had then missed our departure @ 6.45. When I collected the tickets I was never told they're were 4 separate queue's.

Luckily we managed to get on the 7pm departure but we had to wait until everyone had boarded.

Product: Very well organised and amazed that we actually saw the whales . I have definitely recommended this trip

Response from Captain Cook Cruises: Dear Ms Crompton,,

Thank you for your review of VIVID and we were disappointed to read your comments as we did have a very large number of guests on the first night of VIVID over a range of Lights and Dining cruises and did have a coloured flag system to let our guests know where to queue up for their cruise.

We are glad we were able to accommodate you on the next lights cruise fifteen minutes later and we hope you enjoyed the lights of VIVID from the water.

We were  glad to read that you enjoyed your Whale Watching cruise too and thank you for your recommendation.

Sincerely
Head of Customer Services
Captain Cook Cruises

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

4 weeks ago
4/5

Service: My husband and I loved the whale watching cruise , as we did get to see 3 whales swimming together, but as the swell was alittle rough, so by the time we got back to Circular Quays we were feeling alittle green, as in off colour. But besides that, we did enjoy our time. :)

Product: We had an awesome time whale watching and seeing 3 whales swimming together. It was a part of my husbands 50th birthday present, as it was something we both had always wanted to do. The only negative(s) was the rough swell which by the end of the cruise we were feeling a little green around the gills ourselves, plus the inside of the cabin was too warm with the central heating been set to high. Besides that...it was great and I would thoroughly recommend it to everyone..and we would love to do it again ourselves.

Review for Whale Watching - Afternoon Cruise

4 weeks ago
5/5

Service: Very knowledgeable about the experience & what to expect

Product: Very committed to finding whales. Very knowledgeable about whales & facts.

Review for Whale Watching - Morning Cruise

View more reviews