whales at Sydney's Manly Beach




whales in at Manly Sydney harbour

Alex displays his tail


In August 1999 Alex, a rare Southern Right whale, made the harbour waters around Manly his home for a couple of weeks. Alex spent his days cruising between North Harbour and Balmoral in Middle Harbour. He seemed to particularly like the waters off Dobroyd Head right in the Manly Ferry lane.

Thousands of Sydney siders flocked to the headlands to see him and Alex didn't disappoint them. The longer Alex stayed the more it seemed he knew just what people wanted to see. He frequently put on acrobatic displays of tail waving and belly flopping. The National Parks rangers in their inflatable Zodiacs reported that Alex would sometimes come up beind them and playfully nudge them along.

whales in at Manly Sydney harbour

coming up for a breath


whales in at Manly Sydney harbour

Alex shows off for the ferry

One day he charged up out of the waters of North Harbour just metres away from Basil Evans who was rowing his tiny dingy to his yacht. A very shaken Mr Evans quickly made for shore.

There is a strong possibility that Alex was the calf that was born in the waters off Sydney in 1994. This calf was given the name Dennis at the time. If this is the case then there is a good chance that Alex may become a regular visitor to Sydney Harbour as Southern Rights often have a loyalty to the place of their birth.

During Alex's visit Sydney Harbour was playing host to hundreds of international sailors preparing for the 2000 Olympics. Alex's stay began to concern them. With strict regulations in force to protect whales it was quite possible that if Alex returned at the same time next year he may bring the Olympic Yachting program to a standstill. A few weeks later another whale, a more common humpback, found its way into Sydney Harbour. This time the sailing races did have to be postponed. With more whales visiting the Sydney area in the following weeks yachting officials really do appear to have something to worry about for September 2000.



Just when it looked like he may be taking up permanent residence Alex moved on. But not far. He turned up in Botany Bay just near Sydney Airport only a few miles south. He stayed here for almost a week before heading off to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, the summer home for the Southern Rights.

whales in at Manly Sydney harbour

Yet another tail display


whales in at Manly Sydney harbour

Southern Right whale-
Cabbage Tree Bay, Manly 1995

The whales that travel up the coast of New South Wales come from the cold waters of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica where they spend the summer feeding on enormous quantities of krill. As autumn approaches and the pack ice begins to form they begin to head north for the warmer waters along the coast of mainland Australia. Some head as far north as the tropical waters of the Whitsunday Islands in the Great Barrier Reef.

After calving in these waters between August and September they head south once more making their long journey back to Antarctica. Between June and October there are a number of places you can catch sight of them. Hervey Bay near Fraser Island is one and Cape Byron, the eastern most point of Australia is another.

In recent years there have been regular sightings of whales at Manly, usually Humpbacks and even some Southern Rights. Often it is a mother and calf swimming very close to shore just beyond the surf line. Once or twice they have even ventured in through Sydney Heads and up into Middle Harbour.


A ban on the commercial killing of whales has been in place now for a number of years. However Japanese and Norwegian whaling ships continue the slaughter of whales despite the condemnation of the rest of the world. The very long struggle by environmental groups, particularly Greenpeace has resulted in a slow increase of whale numbers here in the Southern Hemisphere.

Whale sightings along the east coast of Australia are becoming an increasingly common event. However a similar regeneration in numbers does not appear to be happening with whales that once migrated through the waters off New Zealand.

Such enlightened attitudes have not always prevailed in Australia.

Commercial whaling was one of the first industries in Australia. Most of the early whaling was done from small boats based in harbours along the coast. This was known as Bay Whaling. There were whaling stations in Eden and Byron Bay in NSW, Albany in Western Australia as well as in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia.

The first whaling station in Australia was opened at Ralph Bay on the Derwent River in Tasmania in 1806. By 1841 there were 35 whaling stations in Tasmania which was second only to the USA in numbers of vessels operating.

whales in at Manly Sydney harbour

Humpback whales with surfers

humpback whale spouting water

"Thar She Blows"

The Bay Whalers mostly went after the Southern Right whales and by 1845 they had almost completely wiped out the species. Because they are slow moving, yield a great amount of oil and float while they are dead, they were considered the "Right" whales to go after. Before 1833 the value of whale products exceeded that of wool, tallow, wheat and hides. By 1850 however it had begun to decline. In 1935 the Southern Rights were protected and it is thought that only a few hundred are left, although their numbers may be beginning to increase again. The last whaling station to operate in Australia was at Albany in Western Australia. It closed in 1978 due to a lack of whales, a decline in demand for whale products and pressure from environmental groups.

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Manly and the Northern Beaches


Michael McFadyen's
with a southern right whale and it's calf at Manly

site by Bill Russo