How to make the most of whale watching season in Victoria

whale tail

Jessica Taylor Yates

Posted July 20, 2022

With more than 60 per cent of the world’s whale population found in Australian waters, it's easier than you might think to get up close with the world’s largest mammals.

Take to the waves on any given day in winter at Phillip Island, and you’re likely to spot fish, algae – and roughly 200 whales. Humpbacks, southern right whales, and orcas can all be found within two hours of Melbourne, so what are they doing near our fairy penguin pals?

Ben Dickie, Marketing Manager at Wildlife Coast Cruises, tells us they are on their bi-yearly migration from Antarctica during whale watching season. “Wintertime brings whales on their northly migration,” he says. “After spending the summer [there], they head to warmer waters of northern Australia to mate, give birth and nurse their calves.” 

So, when is the best time to see whales in Victoria? And where can you go to spot these magnificent creatures of the sea? 

The best time for whale watching in Victoria

Experiencing the natural phenomenon of whale migration comes naturally to Dickie. He’s run multiple cruises per day to see the majestic sea mammals in their natural habitat for almost 30 years at both Phillip Island and Wilson’s Prom. 

If you’re looking to see as many whales as you can, Dickie says winter is your best bet in Phillip Island, and the early springtime at Wilson’s Prom. Most often, those aboard his whale-watching cruises can spot the humpback whales, which can grow up to 18 metres in length, and are known to have one of the longest migrations of any mammal - swimming an impressive 8,000 kilometres. 

One of the highlights in winter, adds Dickie, is whale feeding, where you get whale sightings and can watch nature in all its glory. “It’s a bit like a David Attenborough documentary when these feeding frenzies occur,” he says. “You will have not just whales, but dolphins and sea birds such as gannets, all piled together diving and splashing on top of these bait balls looking for a feed.”

Additionally, the Phillip Island coast is home to Australia’s largest breeding fur seal colony, which the Winter Whale Cruise also passes on its journey through Westernport Bay. 

The majestic whales in all their glory.
Wildlife Coast Cruises run on both the Phillip Island and Wilson's Prom coasts.
Passengers getting up close and personal on a whale watching cruise.

Where to see whales in Victoria

Wondering where the wild whales are in Victoria? We have conservation efforts to thank that they are here at all. 

Protected by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, whales were previously listed as an endangered species after being hunted in the first half of the twentieth century. While hunting is now banned, whales are still threatened by outside factors such as pollution, climate change, shipping, and illegal whaling, which is why they are only found in certain places along their migration paths.  

Dickie runs cruises off the coast of Phillip Island and Wilson’s Prom, where he says those aboard can expect to delight in the view of hundreds of humpback whales, who swim in pods and regularly come close enough to the cruise for excellent photo opportunities. 

“At Wilson’s Promontory, [the whales] return on their southerly migration and often with mother and calf, where [they’re taught] the migration routes as they return to the rich feeding ground,” he says.  

These days, whales take long migrations and live along the coast, with sightings along the above locations, as well as the coastal waters of Warrnambool, and Portland along the Great Ocean Road.  

So, what do you see on a winter whale-watching cruise? 

“It’s never predictable,” says Dickie. But that’s part of the allure.

“Then a sense of exhilaration as we come across whales travelling through, approaching a bit close to spend some time with these gentle giants.”

If you’re lucky, you’ll even spot a bottlenose dolphin or two on your travels, along with orcas, southern right whales and fur seals. 

You may get to even hear the humpback whales communicate through song to the rest of their pod (although humans can only hear the lowest of whale frequencies), or watch them leap through the air Free Willy-style. A lucky few may even see them ‘bubble netting,’ where they let out bubbles while feeding.


Dolphins can sometimes be spotted on a winter cruise.
An albatross takes flight.
The whales coming right up to say hello.
The whales come close enough for excellent photographs.
You can also stop past the fur seal colony, watch them frolic and say hello!

Have a whale of a time  

Although he’s probably seen more whales than we’ve had hot breakfasts, Dickie adds that there is always something new to see and enjoy, whether it’s your first cruise or your 100th. “The staff and I love the challenge of finding whales… it is always a new experience with a variety of behaviours, with competitive pods one day, feeding the next, or even those amazing breaches that we are always hoping for.”

His team also works with local research partners to continue to help track, identify and observe patterns of whale behaviour.  

While zoos may be a dime a dozen, whale sightings are on many people’s bucket list, as it is a natural phenomenon that can only be undertaken in the right place under the right conditions. “Whales are such majestic creatures,” says Dickie. “[To see] the sheer size of these animals… [it] fills everyone with such joy viewing these playful creatures in their natural habitats.” 


Ready to tick whale watching off your bucket list?
RACV Members save on the Phillip Island Winter Whale Watching Cruise →