Whale Watching in Jervis Bay

Located two hours south of Sydney, Jervis Bay is one of the jewels of the whole south coast of NSW. It's a protected marine park surrounded by commonwealth and national parks and is home to an incredible variety of wildlife. Larger than Sydney Harbour the bay is a natural waypoint on the migration journeys of whales and has been a popular location for whale watching since the 1960s.

The main species of whale that migrates up the east coast of Australia is the humpback and, if you go out on a whale watching cruise, this is undoubtedly the sort of whale you'll see. However humpbacks are not the only whales making this incredible journey - southern right, minke and false killer whales also migrate.

Most whale watching trips in Jervis Bay last between two and three hours and take place on either smaller and faster semi-rigid hull boats or larger more traditional tourist catamarans. Generally speaking the shorter tours take place on the smaller faster boats. The tours are of course at the  of the weather but you do get refunded any ticket money if a cruise has to be cancelled due to poor weather conditions. Tickets can be booked in advance and, if you're planning to go out at weekends or during the summer you would be well advised to do so.

Two main operators work in Jervis Bay - Dolphin Watch and Jervis Bay Wild. Dolphin Watch are the longest established of the two, having been working in the local waters for over 20 years. Of the two companies I always prefer to go with Dolphin Watch as I have found their service more reliable and their staff better informed. However both companies operate similar services and similar tours and you will have an enjoyable time out on the water with either of them.

All cruises depart from the public wharf in Huskisson. There is a decent sized car-park down near the wharf, but Huskisson is a  popular tourist destination and you will find it difficult to get a park during holiday periods. For this reason always arrive in Huskisson with plenty of time to spare so you can get to the boat from your back-street park before it sails out into the bay.

Like all cruises out on the open waters of the ocean, the weather out there can be very different to the weather on land. For this reason do carefully consider what you're wearing as it can get pretty chilly out there even in mid-summer. Consider taking a spray jacket with you as well, particularly if you are on one of the smaller boats as these can pick up a bit of spray especially when the ocean is choppy.

While Jervis Bay itself is usually pretty calm, it can pick up some swell in windy conditions. The ocean is another matter entirely and when it's calm in the bay it can be quite choppy out on the ocean. So if you suffer from sea sickness you should either stick to the cruises within the bay or stock up on sea-sickness pills.

Photography Tips

Most modern smartphones have a camera zoom option and you should use this whenever possible so that the whale fills as much of the frame as possible. If you take a shot zoomed out the whale will likely be a small grey speck in the ocean. To get the best image centre the preview window on the whale and then zoom smoothly in. Beware of zooming too far though because your phone might use digital zoom which is of lower quality.

If you're shooting video then you should definitely beware of zooming in too far because although recent smartphones like the iPhone 8 or Galaxy 8 have excellent image stabilisation, it has its limits.

Do bear in mind that, particularly outside the bay on the open ocean waters, you will get waves coming through which might catch you unawares, so try and shoot your video or take your photos over the boat in case you drop it.

If you've got a point and shoot camera then make sure you put it into sport mode and have your finger on that shutter button all of the time you're filming because you don't get any advance warning of epic sights such as whale breaches. If you're in sports mode then the shutter speed will be kept high, meaning the action is frozen sharply. If your point-and-shoot has image stabilisation then video is an option, but if it doesn't use your smartphone instead.

On a mirrorless or DSLR camera the best lens to bring along is a variable zoom. Ideally you want a lens that works well from mid to relatively long distances, such as an 85-250. Obviously a big prime zoom lens is good too, but the problem is always going to be finding the whale through that zoom on a moving boat with enough speed to capture the action. But if you're well practiced at locating subjects with your zoom then go for it.

While action cameras are excellent for many things, they don't make the best tools for capturing whales. This is because they typically have wide fixed aperture lenses and the whale will not (typically) be big enough within the frame when you view the footage. Of course you might get lucky and have a whale breach next to the boat, in which case your action camera's waterproof properties will prove extremely useful.

Obviously whale watching is a seasonal event and you may be visiting Jervis Bay outside the main migration period of May to November. If that's the case then all the boat operators run other cruises which are well worth going on. There's a large dolphin population in Jervis Bay and this becomes the main attraction during the summer months. There are also cruises out of the heads of the bay to the seal colony at the Drum and Drumsticks rock formation on the eastern side of the Beecroft Peninsula. Some of the cruises have added attractions such as boom netting when you relax in the water behind the boat in a large boom net.

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