The Tour Specialists Blog


Where can I go whale watching in Cairns?

Sophie Tabouel on October 1st, 2021

So, you want to know where you can go whale watching in Cairns. The obvious answer is, in the ocean, but you probably want a bit more information than that. For starters, you will have the best chance of seeing whales near Cairns during the months of June, July and August. This is when most of the Humpback whale and Dwarf Minke whale activity is at its peak on the Great Barrier Reef and when the tours that specialise in finding whales for you to watch start operating each year.


There are also two options for your whale watching tour depending on the type of whale; watching them from a boat or swimming with them in the water on the Great Barrier Reef.


Photo Courtesy of Tourism Events Queensland


On either a day or overnight Great Barrier Reef tour that visits the reef locations closest to Cairns, you are more likely to see Humpback whales. These majestic giants of the deep range from 12 to 16 metres in length and, at the risk of anthropomorphising, one can’t help but feel that they are having an awful lot of fun when they roll around in the ocean slapping their huge fins on the surface, spectacularly launch their enormous bodies out of the sea only to crash back down in a massive explosion of white water and even spy hop to take a sneaky peek at the world above the waves.


Photo Courtesy of Tourism Events Queensland


To be fair, making that very long and no doubt arduous journey from the Antarctic all the way up to the Great Barrier Reef every year must be very hard work, so who could blame them for needing to let off a bit of steam?


If you book yourself on an overnight liveaboard dive and snorkel tour that travels up to and beyond the Ribbon Reefs, you have a good chance of being able to swim with one of the smallest of the baleen whales, the Dwarf Minke whale, which grows up to 8 metres long. These whales are notoriously curious and have been known to spend hours hanging around boats and snorkellers; but how long they decide to grace you with their presence is of course entirely up to the whales.


Photo Courtesy of Tourism Events Queensland


Dwarf Minke whales seem to prefer snorkellers to divers but the liveaboard ‘Swim with Minke whales’ trips that operate in the winter months offer divers and snorkelers the opportunity to explore some of the most spectacular sites on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as meet the Minke whales.


Neither will disappoint as one of life’s peak experiences.


To swim with Dwarf Minke whales on a day tour, it is best to depart from Port Douglas on one of the few boats that has a permit for this activity. Not only will you get to visit some beautiful Great Barrier Reef sites for snorkelling and scuba diving but, if your vessel is fortunate enough to be approached by these inquisitive creatures, you will be able to don your snorkelling gear and get in the water with the Minke whales.


Photo Courtesy of Tourism Events Queensland


On these swim with the whales occasions, swimmers are positioned a few metres apart on a surface rope and then it is at the whales’ discretion as to how close they come and how much they interact with the people in the water.


There is a wealth of information on our website about the specific tours on which you can see and even swim with whales.


Alternatively, give us a call on 1300 761 612 (+61 7 4059 5959 from overseas) and we can help you plan your whale encounter.


In the meantime, here are a few lesser known Humpback whale facts with which to impress your friends and family while you are deciding on the right whale watching or swim with whales tour for you:






  • There is a haunting beauty to whale song but, while both female and male whales vocalise using grunts, barks and groans, only the male humpback whale sings. The whales in each population sing the same song, one song can be up to 20 minutes long and this song will evolve over time. That said, much like a catchy pop song that everyone loves for a while until they reach the point of saturation, the whales will eventually abandon the ‘tune of the moment’ and all take up a new, usually simpler, song that they then develop and embellish all over again.













  • Humpback whales have two blowholes; one for each lung, and just in case you were wondering, each lung is about the size of a small car. What’s more, these whales actually have to think about breathing so, when they sleep, they shut off one half of their brain at a time so they can continue this vital process.
  • While the sound of a whale song can travel up to 30 kilometres, Humpback whales also have ‘indoor voices’. Apparently - unlike some human children - young whales make very quiet vocalisations which are up to 70 decibels lower than when adult Humpbacks are communicating with each other. Researchers suspect that this ‘whale whispering’ may be a way for the mother and calf to stay under the radar of nearby hunting Orcas. If only something would have the same effect on the screaming kids in my local supermarket!
  • Humpback whales mainly eat krill, anchovies, sardines and other small schooling fish and they consume up to 1300 kilograms of food every day. In the feeding season in cold water however, they can eat up to 2500 kilograms per day. Can you imagine just how big a pile of 2500kgs of anchovies would be? And it’s not just the adults that have large appetites; the calves can drink about 600 litres of milk per day!
  • Humpback whales have unique markings on their tail flukes, much like human fingerprints, and these can be used to identify individual whales. I wonder, do Humpback whales use these markings to identify each other as well, or do they just know who’s who?


Take a look at our whale watching tours and swim with whale tours.


The Tour Specialists - Destination Specialist

Sophie Tabouel

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