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The Whitsundays Has Officially Become A Whale Heritage Site

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Talia Jones
Updated Wed 27 Mar 2024

A humpback whale's tale in the ocean

When was the Whitsundays recognised as a Whale Heritage Site?

The Whitsundays has officially become the first Whale Heritage Site within the World Heritage Area of the Great Barrier Reef. The designation was developed by the World Cetacean Alliance to support and show the importance of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) in their ocean environment. 

Locals and communities part of the Whales of the Whitsundays committee rallied together to put forward the application to the World Cetacean Alliance to have the region recognised as a Whale Heritage Site. The committee strives to spread awareness about cetaceans, focus on protection, and respect the remarkable creatures in their natural habitat. The application was approved by the World Heritage Committee in March, 2024. 

This decision means that whales in the Whitsundays are guaranteed to remain heavily protected for years to come, and visitors will forever be able to enjoy the extraordinary sightings sustainably and respectfully. 

A large humpback whale breaching out of the ocean

Who is the World Cetacean Alliance?

The World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) is the largest marine conservation partnership in the world. The alliance works with tourism partners to address issues facing cetaceans (whales and dolphins). The WCA aims to protect cetaceans, empower local communities to influence change to protect cetaceans and their habitats, develop campaigns to advocate for cetaceans around the world, and to create an environment where cetaceans can live freely from exploitation, cruelty and suffering. 

The WCA has developed a program where destinations across the world are to be recognised and accredited in becoming Whale Heritage Sites. And the Whitsundays is now on the list as an accredited Whale Heritage Site, becoming the world’s first official Whale Heritage Site within a World Heritage Area.  

A pod of whales in the ocean from above

What is a Whale Heritage Site?

According to the World Cetacean Alliance, a Whale Heritage Site is a global accreditation scheme where “outstanding destinations [are] recognised for providing and celebrating responsible and sustainable wild whale and dolphin watching”. For a location to qualify for becoming a Whale Heritage Site, the local communities must encourage respectful human-cetacean coexistence, show their commitment to cetacean conservation, and be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. As of December 2023, there were only 10 Whale Heritage Site locations, including one in Hervey Bay, Australia. 

A whale in the ocean, photo taken from above

Whales in the Whitsundays

For hundreds of thousands of years, between June and September, humpback whales migrate from the icy waters of Antarctica and travel north along Australia’s East Coast, in search of warmer waters to give birth to their calves. The pregnant females can only give birth when the water temperature is around 20 degrees Celsius (75-80 degrees Fahrenheit), as it’s the ideal condition for feeding their young. This makes the Whitsundays the perfect whale birthing location as the water temperature in winter averages around 20 degrees Celsius a day.     

Humpback whales aren’t the only cetaceans found in the Whitsundays; dwarf minke whales, dolphins, pilot whales and dugongs have also been spotted. However, most of these creatures are found in the Whitsunday waters year-round. 

A whale and a calf in the ocean, photo taken from above

Tours During Whale Season

Threats to Whales in the Whitsundays

The primary threat to whales in the Whitsundays is harassment and vessel collisions. People are often unaware of the laws that prohibit humans from approaching a whale from a private vessel. Approaching a whale involves many risks as you may appear as a threat, causing distress to the creature which will ultimately put yourself in danger. Along with approaching a whale, collisions can happen too, which can cause injury to both the whale and the passengers on the vessel. 

Other threats to whales in the Whitsundays include noise pollution from recreational vessels, military training operations, drones, and cruise ships. Not only is human interaction a threat, climate change and a rise in sea temperatures mean that cetaceans may risk losing their habitats which could reduce reproduction. 

A humpback whale playing in the ocean

How to see Whales in the Whitsundays

If you’d like to see these fascinating creatures in their natural environment, then visit the Whitsundays during whale season. Although there are no specific ‘whale watching’ tours, if you book a trip to Whitehaven Beach or to the Great Barrier Reef during the peak of whale season, you are likely to spot whales from afar. As it is illegal to approach a whale from a vessel, the boats will keep a safe distance but allow for prime viewing. Watching humpback whales breaching and playing with their young is an unforgettable experience. 

Another way to safely see whales in the Whitsundays is from above. There are plenty of scenic flights that depart daily from Airlie Beach or Proserpine that fly over the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef. On a clear and calm day during whale season, you will likely be able to spot whales from the sky.

Two girls sitting on a boat, one is pointing out at sea

If you want to know more about whales in the Whitsundays, or you'd like to book a tour, contact our friendly travel agents via our live chat who will answer your questions!

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