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Humpback Whales on the Great Barrier Reef

Updated Tue 21 Feb 2023

Did you know there are humpback whales on the Great Barrier Reef? The Great Barrier Reef is brimming with an extraordinarily diverse ecosystem of over 9,000 species, including yearly appearances from humpback whales. These big friendly sea mammals joined the protected species list in the seventies and since then their population has continued to increase annually. 

The East Coast of Australia currently plays host to around 40,000 humpback whales during migration. To put that in perspective, in 2007 we only had a population of about 10,000-12,000! This is partially thanks to the safe breeding and calving grounds around Great Barrier Reef. So the warm waters of the reef are actually helping the humpback’s numbers to steadily rise and flourish!

aerial view of reef and boat

Get to Know Humpback Whales

There are so many cool facts about humpback whales on the Great Barrier Reef. Considered the world’s fifth largest animal, female humpback whales can reach up to 15 meters long and weigh as heavy as 40,000 kg. Their flipper size is the largest amongst the whale family and grows up to a third of their body length. In fact, their huge flippers are such a prominent feature of these gentle giants that their scientific name is megaptera, which is Latin for ‘giant wing’.

aerial view of whales in the ocean

More About Humpback Whales

The mouths of humpback whales may be big enough to fit a whole human inside of them (around 10 feet in diameter), but these big friendly giants dine on a strict diet of krill and small fish. Actually, that’s pretty much all the humpback can swallow as its throat is barely big enough to fit a human fist in it. As a baleen species, in place of a huge set of chompers, the humpback uses comb-like bristles to trap small crustaceans and fish as they filter large gulps of seawater.

Male humpback whales are believed to use ‘songs’ to attract female humpback whales. These songs are composed of moans, wails, and clicks. Male humpbacks can even sing for up to 24 hours, but usually, their songs last 10 to 20 minutes. Funnily enough, for such musical creatures, whales have no vocal cords. Rather, the songs that they produce are made by forcing air through their huge nasal cavities. The boys utilise this to find lady whales to mate with. On the flip side, female humpbacks are believed to lack the ability to vocalise.

two whales breaching

See Humpback Whales in Cairns!

The best time to see humpback whales in Cairns is from July to August. Between these months the water reaches an ideal temperature for the humpbacks, who migrate north from sub-Antarctic waters to birth and raise their calves. All up, the humpback clocks around 25,000 kilometres in migration every year! Whale-watching during these months becomes all the rage for Cairns visitors, because who wouldn’t want to see these majestic creatures rule the sea?!

Seeing humpbacks in the flesh as they soar through the waters of the Great Barrier Reef is a gift to behold, so let’s help you cross it off your bucket list! Getting up close and personal with humpbacks in a safe, respectful and educational way promotes the ongoing protection and preservation of these incredible marine mammals. And it’s fabulous to know that whether you are an international traveller or an Australian exploring the natural wonders in your own backyard, you can play a part in sustaining thriving futures for humpbacks.

aerial view of boat and whale

Cairns Tours for Humpback Whale Watching

If you want to experience an unforgettable humpback whale encounter, Cairns Tours offers the best experiences during peak migration season. Make the most out of your stay — set sail from the sundrenched shores of Cairns and embark on a mesmerising whale-watching journey! 

whale breaching in front of a boat tour

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