Whales, dolphins and seals
From living on the land 50 million years ago to living in the vast oceans today, whales are thought to share ancestry with modern day horses, pigs and deer, while seals are surprisingly related to bears.
While whales and dolphins are now permanent residents in the sea, seals regularly come out of the water (haul-out) to rest, mate, moult and give birth.
Extensive whaling and seal hunting in the 19th century and into the 20th century resulted in a number of species coming close to extinction. Following an almost universal ban on sealing and whaling, these marine beauties are slowly making a comeback.
Although the Australian fur seal is the most common in Tasmanian waters, hunting made them the world's fourth-rarest seal species.
Today, a rapidly growing tourism industry provides people with the opportunity to see these remarkable animals, thriving in their natural environment.
Have you seen a whale, dolphin or seal? Call the Whale Hotline on 0427 – WHALES (0427 942 537).
You can call this number to report on whale sightings in Tasmanian waters, including the appearance of their health, a whale or dolphin stranding, dolphins or seals, and strange or unusual marine mammals including turtles. The Marine Conservation Program is collating this data.
Whales migrate along the eastern and western coastline of Tasmania.
Southern right whales travel northward from subantarctic waters to the waters of the Southern Australia from June to September and return southward between September and late October.
Humpback whales travel northward to breeding areas off the coast of Queensland and Western Australia between May and July and return southward to their subantarctic feeding grounds between September and November.
What to look for
While most species of whales migrate some distance off the continental shelf, humpback and southern right whales come sufficiently close to the coast to allow regular sightings from land.
10 of the most frequently seen whales and dolphins in Tasmania
Toothed dolphins and whales
- Long-finned pilot whale, Globicephala melaena
- Common dolphin, Delphinus delphis
- Sperm whale, Physeter catodon
- Bottle-nosed dolphin, Tursiops truncatus
- Killer whale, Orcinus orca
- Pygmy right whale, Caperea marginata
- Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
- Southern right whale, Eubalaena australis
- Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Two types of seals breed in Tasmania
- Australian fur seal, Arctocephalus pusillus
- Long-nosed fur seal, Arctocephalus forsteri (previously known as the New Zealand fur seal)
Other seals you may see
- Southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina
- Leopard seal, Hydrurga leptonyx
- Sub-Antarctic fur seal, Arctocephalus tropicalis
- Australian sea lion, Neophoca cinerea
Best places to see marine mammals
Bring your binoculars, a camera and a keen set of eyes to these locations.
Along the east coast, whales can often be seen in sheltered bays in these locations:
- Binalong Bay
- Great Oyster Bay
- Adventure Bay, Bruny Island
- Frederick Henry Bay
- Marion Bay
- Recherche Bay
Seals are common on offshore islands around the north and eastern coast of Tasmania:
Whales and dolphins are particularly vulnerable to injury from hull and propeller strikes by motorised vessels, and occasional accidental contact with human powered craft such as sea-kayaks, or with swimmers. Direct contact could potentially result in serious outcomes. In addition to the obvious collision risk, the acoustic disturbance from engines, hull noises and disturbance of the water may alarm and disorientate animals. A minimum approach distance of 100m when encountering any whale or dolphin species is recommended.
The greatest threat to seals comes not from their natural predators, white pointer sharks and killer whales, but from humans. As naturally inquisitive animals, deaths occur as a result of deliberate illegal shooting, fisheries bycatch and entanglement in plastic.
These marine mammals suffer horrific deaths due to marine pollution, such as entanglement in marine debris. Please be mindful of your plastic use and dispose of all litter once you are back on land.
Want to learn more?
Download the Wildcare Whales and Seals app, a guide to all the whales, dolphins and seals found in Tasmanian waters. These are available from the App Store, only on Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. More information can be found on our Apps page.
If you are interested in assisting with whale rescues then join Wildcare Tasmania and register with one of the many whale rescue branches established around the State.