With over 40% of visitors accessing the reef through the Whitsundays and the highest private boat ownership in Queensland, human-wildlife conflict is bound to happen. On top of national policy protecting cetaceans, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service collaborate to ensure whale and dolphin watching is conducted in a manner that...
The Whitsundays Whale Heritage Area includes a group of islands with fringing reefs that follows the existing Whale Protection Area defined by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Cetaceans are a vital part of the ecosystem with four species of dolphin and six species of whale officially recorded in the area. From July to September, humpback whales pass through to breed and calve, and Dwarf minke whales also pass through the waters at this time. A vibrant tourism industry and many events and activities make the Whitsundays a special place to visit.
Species and habitats
Four species of dolphin and six species of whale have officially been recorded in the Whitsundays. Some species, like the short-finned pilot whale, can be seen year-round while others are migratory. The biggest influx of the year happens between June and October with humpback and dwarf minke whales passing through during their winter migration. Humpback whales are the most sighted during this period, with an estimated 40,000 individuals making the journey north. The Whitsundays is of particular importance to humpbacks and has been recognised as a calving ground because the islands create safe and sheltered locations for mothers to birth.
The most direct threat cetaceans face within the Whitsunday Whale Heritage Area is vessel strikes and harrassment. Although the Whitsundays is only 1% of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, about 40% of visitors access the reef from here. The region is also known to have the highest boat ownership in Queensland and recreational boat use is currently unmonitored. Along with vessel strikes, noise pollution from recreational vessels, the high-speed tourism industry, military training operations, and cruise ships are also a concern.
More broadly, cetaceans face fundamental threats from climate change. As sea temperatures and ocean levels rise, cetaceans risk losing critical habitat, having greater competition for diminishing prey, and have reduced reproductive success.
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Visitors to Wildlife Heritage Areas can take part in outstanding wildlife watching experiences that put wildlife first. Staying in a Wildlife Heritage Area helps local communities invest in animal welfare and wildlife conservation, benefitting community well-being and driving forward sustainable practices.
Designated for excellence
Communities achieve Wildlife Heritage Area designation by playing a central role in protecting wild animals and their habitats. With support from responsible travel organisations and wildlife experts, these communities are committed to help turn the tide on biodiversity loss and the climate crisis, adopt a zero tolerance for wildlife suffering in tourism, and advocate for positive change through a willingness to collaborate.
The Whales of the Whitsundays Steering Committee is, at its core, an education project. We understand that the best way to protect cetaceans now and in the future is to engage and educate the community. We have started a Facebook page “Whales of the Whitsundays” and in less than one year we have over 1.5K members in a region of only 38K residents. The page encourages members to...
In August each year the Whitsundays comes alive with the Great Barrier Reef Festival. This four-day festival is a key community engagement event and has a little something for everyone. Marine life is celebrated at this festival, with whales being the theme of 2023. There are marine life lanterns made in the lead up and a lantern parade, “marine biologist for a day” reef...
Due to colonialism, significant Traditional Knowledge and connection to the Country and Sea has been lost. Fortunately, the people are strong and enduring; Recently Ngaro Traditional Owners have started the process of bringing previously lost or unshared songs to the wider community. One song, which is about whales, has lyrics but has never been heard and the music and rhythm...
Whitsunday Regional Council has partnered with EarthCheck to become a Sustainable Destination and to support the Healthy Heart Project in its goal to decarbonise the region. The Whitsunday Healthy Heart Project (WHHP) not only looks at council’s carbon footprint, it also engages the tourism sector. Having formed partnerships with over 37 local businesses, including island...
Welcome Whale Event
Signifying the start of whale season and the connection of Traditional Owners to humpback whales, the Welcome Whale Event aims to reconnect people to the environment. The event includes a Traditional Welcome to Country, a Smoking Ceremony, an Indigenous dance ceremony welcoming whales to the region, and stories from Traditional Owners about their connection to whales. The event supports and connects visitors and locals to the Whales of the Whitsundays project.
Great Barrier Reef Festival
The annual Great Barrier Reef Festival takes pride in inclusively connecting the reef to the shore. It celebrates the coastal region of the Whitsundays at the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. The Immersive Marine Art Installation, created using recycled products, brings a colourful reef attraction to the Airlie Beach foreshore. The Master Reef Guide Discovery experiences include interactive workshops and guided tours of the outer Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands.
Marina, John, and Lynne conduct liveaboard or half/ full-day charters that visit remote locations in the world’s largest and most diverse marine reserve. You can book a cabin and join other like-minded adventurers or privately charter. Visitors from mid-June to September will have the fantastic opportunity to witness the amazing humpback whales from the best position! You will also be able to hear their songs from the on-board hydrophone.
Sail and Dive
Kiana Sail & Dive offers exclusive Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef expeditions, including 5-day Outer Reef Expeditions, 3-day Islands and Outer Reef Expeditions, or Private Charters. The expert team uses years of local knowledge and sail and dive experience to provide unique Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands experiences!
Red Cat Adventures won Gold for Australia’s best Adventure Tourism Business in 2022. The Australian-owned charter boat company provides exceptional tours around the Whitsunday Islands to Whitehaven Beach from Airlie Beach. The team at Red Cat are proud to be awarded the Climate Action Leaders certification — the highest level of ECO standards awarded in Australia. Red Cat has also joined the Immersive Learning Project to introduce education and group travel to the region.