The Australian Fur Seal is the world's fourth-rarest Seal species. Hunted to the brink of extinction last century, population recovery has been slow, and seals are now wholly protected. The Australian Fur Seal is found from the coast of NSW, down around Tasmania to Victoria and South Australia. It is the most common seal in Tasmanian waters and breeds on small isolated rocks in Bass Strait between October and January. It also hauls-out at various rocky areas around the Tasmanian coastline, especially outside the breeding season when many seals disperse from the breeding colonies.
The most frequently seen cetaceans are the common Bottle-nosed Dolphins, while the larger species of baleen whale, southern right whales and humpback whales, can be seen at east coast vantage points such as Frederick Henry Bay and Great Oyster Bay. While most species migrate some distance off the continental shelf, the Humpback and Southern Right whale come sufficiently close to the coast to allow regular sightings from land.
Humpbacks travel northward to breeding areas off the coast of Queensland and Western Australia between May and July and return southward to their sub-antarctic feeding grounds between September and November.
Southern right whales travel north from June to September to the waters of southern mainland Australia and return southward between September and late October.
A proportion of the population gives birth in Tasmanian waters, with most sightings occurring on the east coast. Although this may be simply a consequence of the higher population of human observers in the east, it is likely that the humpback and southern right whales prefer the calmer waters of the east coast. However, although whales may commonly appear placid at sea, and dolphins often initiate contact with humans directly, it is important not to disturb cetaceans by approaching closely.
Whales and Dolphins are particularly vulnerable to damage from hull and propeller strikes on motorised vessels, and due to their size, accidental contact with human-powered craft such as sea-kayaks, or with swimmers could potentially result in serious outcomes. In addition to the obvious collision risk the acoustic disturbance from engines, hull noises and disturbance of the water close by may alarm and disorientate animals, particularly if juveniles are present. This is especially important for southern right whales, as they have only recently begun breeding again in Tasmanian waters following their near extinction from whaling activities.
Whale watching is one of Tasmania’s most popular tourist activities, and many companies offer chartered trips that provide intimate encounters with these animals.