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Cetaceans of Australasia

Australasia spreads across many climates and habitats and is thus home to a large number of cetacean species. The most frequently seen species are:

This page also includes:

  • Whale watching in Australia and New Zealand
  • Australian Whale Sanctuary
  • WDCS working with Pacific Island Nations
  • More information

Bottlenose Dolphins

Back LeapThese steely grey dolphins are found throughout Australasia, normally close to land. These dolphins are vulnerable to habitat damage in those places where they live close to heavily populated areas, such as in Adelaide’s Port River.  WDCS funded researcher Mike Bossley has studied the Port River dolphins for 20 years.  The WDCS Adopt a dolphin program allows WDCS supporters a special link with these dolphin by providing insights into how they live and the latest findings and photographs from Mike’s research.

For further information on the Bottlenose dolphin, visit the Marine dolphins in our species guide

Common Dolphins

Common DolphinEnergetic, creamy sided dolphins found throughout the area, normally in the open ocean. They sometimes occur in huge schools of thousands of individuals.  Significant numbers of these animals are killed in commercial nets and this is of growing concern.

For further information  on the Common dolphin, visit the Marine dolphins in our species guide

Spinner Dolphins

Spinner DolphinThese natural acrobats are found in warmer waters out at sea but tend to rest in sheltered coastal waters during the evening.

Photo © WDCS - Cara Miller

For further information on the Spinner dolphin, visit the Marine dolphins in our species guide

Hectors and Mauis Dolphins

Hectors DolphinThese tiny, closely related dolphins are found only in New Zealand. There are estimated to be only 111 Maui’s dolphins left and around 7000 Hectors, so both are very much in need of protection from the nets which is thought to be the main cause of their deaths.  You can sign our petition online to help save these dolphins (link tbc).

For further information on the Hectors and Maui’s dolphin, visit the Marine dolphins in our species guide

IndoPacific Humpback Dolphins

IndoPacific Humpback DolphinA tropical species which are normally found close to shore.  Subject to habitat damage in some areas.

Photo © WDCS - Thomas Jefferson

For further information on the IndoPacific Humpback dolphin, visit the Marine dolphins in our species guide

Humpback Whale

Humpback WhaleCharacterised by very long pectoral fins (flippers) they are found normally on the east and west coasts during winter months.  Numbers are gradually increasing from severe depletion from whaling.  These whales are now the focus of a substantial whale watching industry and there have been concerns that a lack of regulation could see them suffer from harassment.

For further information on the Humpback Whale, visit the Mysticetes (Baleen Whales) in our species guide

Southern Right Whale

Southern Wright WhaleThese are very dark, slow swimming whales which lack a dorsal fin.  They are found mainly in southern waters during winter months where they seek shallow water for breeding.  They almost became extinct in the late 1800s but numbers are now slowly increasing.

For further information on the Southern Right Whale, visit the Mysticetes (Baleen Whales) in our in our species guide

The Head of Bight is a significant breeding and calving area for this endangered whale.  You can visit the Great Australian Bight Marine park site here


OrcaThese handsome animals are a “cosmopolitan” species, ie found throughout the world. Orca have not been well studied in Australian waters.  WDCS funded researcher Ingrid Visser has studied them extensively in NZ waters and to some extent in the Pacific.  The WDCS Adopt an orca program allows WDCS supporters a special link with these Orca by providing insights into how they live and the latest findings and photographs from Ingrid’s research.

For further information  on the Orca, visit the Marine dolphins in our species guide

Blue Whales

Blue WhaleIn recent years several hot spots for Blue whales have been identified.  One of these is in the region of the Bonney upwelling near the South Australian-Victorian border.  This area is also been targeted for oil exploration and there is concern that the explosive sounds used in prospecting might have a negative impact on these globally rare whales.

For further information  on the Blue Whale, visit the Mysticetes (Baleen Whales) in our species guide

Whale Watching in Australia and New Zealand

There are many places in Australian and New Zealand to see whales and dolphins in the wild.  Bottlenose Dolphins can be seen in Port Stephens (NSW), Ballina (NSW) and the Swan Estuary (WA) to name a few.  The annual migration of Humpback Whales allows viewing in Hervey Bay and the Gold Coast (Qld).  Southern Right Whales can be seen during the Southern Hemisphere winter at Warrnambool (Vic), Victor Harbor and the Australian Bight (SA).

New Zealand offers many watching opportunities including the Bay of Islands, Marlborough Sounds and Kaikoura.

WDCS supports and promotes responsible whale watching.  To view the Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin watching click here 

Australian Whale Sanctuary

The Australian Government has established the Australian Whale Sanctuary.  To read more about the sanctuary and to download a map, visit their site here

WDCS working with Pacific Island Nations

The Pacific Islands region covers 32 million sq km and is situated in the middle of the largest continuous marine habitat on the planet, the Pacific Ocean.  It is home to a diverse range of marine fauna and over half of the world's known species of whales and dolphins are found in this area.

WDCS has worked with the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and a region wide agreement has now been reached, providing the legal framework for conservation decisions.

Conservation work is instrumental in alleviating some of the many threats that face whales and dolphins in this ocean, such as:

  • loss of their home, food and habitat due to
    • overexploitation of living resources
    • land based sources of pollution
    • introduction of invasive species
  • entanglement, capture and death in fishing nets and on lines
  • noise pollution from military, industrial and other human activity
  • chemical pollution and marine debris
  • being wounded or killed by vessels
  • lack of regulation of whale watching and swim with programs impacting particularly on mothers and their calves
  • hunting and capture of dolphins for the captivity industry
  • 'scientific' whaling activity

WDCS is providing on the ground scientific expertise to assist local conservationists and politicians to implement the measures in the agreement.  We do this through establishing a network of researchers and policy experts across the region, coordinating meetings and workshops with representatives from each Pacific Island, developing local programs and training within coastal communities and monitoring and evaluating progress.   You can make a donation here to help support our work in the Pacific region.

More Information

The Australian Government hosts information about Whales and Dolphins as part of their Marine Species information.  The site includes the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) Listing Status and distribution maps for Australian species of Whales and Dolphins.  You can visit their page here.  Choose “More about Australia’s dolphin species to view the EPBC status and distribution maps for both whales and dolphins.

First Whale Killed In Iceland's 2010 Whaling Season

WDCS Latin America Attends Key Regional Anti-whaling Meeting

Japan's Internal Whaling Battle

Norwegian Whaler Fined, Blocked From Hunt

Bowhead Whale Hunt A Fiasco In Greenland

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