From the humpback whale migration up and down the east coast, to southern right and blue whales heading for warm waters on the west coast, there are plenty of places around Australia to go whale watching. But Fowlers Bay, on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, offers an experience unlike any other.
“You can never guarantee it but generally speaking we’ll put the hydrophone in the water and you can hear the humpbacks calling,” says Rod Keogh, co-owner of EP Cruises.
While it’s a haunting song and no-one knows for sure what the calls mean, these whales might just be singing lullabies – Fowlers Bay is a “nursery” for breeding southern right and humpback whales, who spend up to three months in the sheltered waters calving young.
“Our resident southern rights come back every three to four years,” says Keogh, who has been operating the Fowlers Bay whale watching tour for more than a decade. “Usually if they calve in the bay they’ll come back to do it again,” he adds. “In our best season we saw 29 whale calves born.”
EP Cruises has a unique permit that allows the vessel to come within 150 metres of a mother and her calf, rather than the regular 300 metres. The gentle giants who are regulars in the bay have grown familiar with the operation and are comfortable enough to interact with the boat, often coming closer than the 150 metres, according to Keogh. “We get a lot of mating displays, a lot of breaching and a lot of vocals. You’ll hear the southern right whales, too, we play it over our PA system,” he says.
In addition to the singing cetaceans, you’ll likely see sea lions, dolphins and marine birds including white-bellied sea eagles and osprey. And while he won’t make guarantees on Mother Nature’s behalf, Keogh is quietly confident his guests will be amazed by the experience. “Normally we take 28 people out and there’s more whales in the bay than people on the boat,” he says.
The best time for whale watching in South Australia
The EP Cruises Fowlers Bay whale-watching tour operates most days in July, August and September, weather permitting. Bookings are essential.
How to get there
Fly to Port Lincoln from Adelaide then it’s a beautiful six-ish-hour drive north along the Eyre Peninsula coast. Break up the trip with stops at the Port Kenny Hotel for a classic pub lunch, Smoky Bay (buy a dozen fresh oysters direct from the source) and Ceduna, the last major town before the Nullabor.
Where to stay
If you’re keen to hang out for a few days, pitch a tent or book a basic two-bedroom ocean view cabin at Fowlers Bay Caravan Park. The cabins sleep four and look out at the bay, plus there’s an onsite kiosk for coffee (billed as the best in town) and groceries.
Image credit: South Australian Tourism Commission and Claire Charlton.