Bottlenose dolphins have to be one of Australia's most well loved wild creatures.
Whether it’s because of their playfulness, intelligence or turned up mouth corners that mimic a permanent smile, visitors to Perth can’t get enough of them. The best time for dolphin watching in Perth is between September and May, when you might be lucky enough to spot them in Perth itself along the Swan River or off the coast near Ocean Reef and Sorrento. Perth's iconic places to see dolphins are on a dolphin swim tour in Rockingham and cruise in Mandurah.
Here are the best places within Perth and surrounds for dolphin watching in the wild.
Did You Know?
Dolphins are more closely related to us than you might think. For a start they’re warm blooded mammals, like us. Unlike fish, which lay eggs, dolphins give birth to live young as do all other mammals. They mate all year round, so there’s always a chance of seeing a baby with its mother when you take a dolphin cruise with an experienced Perth operator.
Many don’t realise that dolphins breathe air and can’t breathe underwater. When they go below the surface, the blowhole closes to keep water out of their lungs - without this reflex, they would drown. This means they have to come up for air at least every 10-15 minutes; on average, they surface every 2 to 3 minutes, which greatly increases the likelihood of spotting them on a dolphin tour.
Dolphins are wild animals, which means no dolphin tour operator can guarantee they’ll put in an appearance. Having said that, the chances of encountering dolphins in the right area is incredibly high, with operators commonly offering a 99% sighting guarantee.
If you want to swim with dolphins on your visit to Perth, be sure to choose a reputable operator. There are risks to the animals if interactions aren’t properly managed, and Perth’s best dolphin tour operators work hard to protect these beautiful creatures. You won’t see dolphins in captivity performing tricks - only in their natural habitat and when they choose to approach.
Dolphins are often seen playing in the estuary, boat harbour and waterways of Mandurah, an hour south of Perth City. The inland waterways offer protection for birthing and an abundance of fish for feeding, making this area an ideal playground for dolphins and a great place for dolphin watching close to Perth.
Mandurah Cruises notes that dolphins live together in groups of as few as two, right up to over a thousand. The operator says they often see group sizes of between two and fifteen on their dolphin tours, and sometimes as many as thirty swimming together. They also explain that dolphins like to socialise with animals outside their species (including humans). Off Mandurah’s coast they have been observed playing with whales, and they can often be seen surfing on the wake of boats, sometimes stopping to take a good look at the people on board!
A dolphin cruise is a great way to see these friendly creatures and enjoy a scenic tour, or hire a boat and seek them out for yourself. Mandurah Cruises serves up a fish and chips lunch on board and offers additional crabbing, crawfishing and deep sea fishing adventures, all of which almost guarantee dolphin sightings.
The beauty of a Rockingham dolphin tour is the opportunity, very close to Perth city, to see not only bottlenose dolphins, but the penguins and sea lions of Shoalwater Islands Marine Park too.
Perth Wildlife Encounters has a Dolphin, Penguin and Sea Lion Adventure cruise around the marine park, where you can learn more about dolphins, watch them play in the wake of the boat and maybe even see a mother with her calf. This dolphin cruise includes a visit to the sea lions of Seal Island and a Penguin Island experience, where you can watch rangers feeding the penguins.
Penguin Island is home to the largest colony of Little Penguins on the west coast. Note that the island is closed during breeding season, from early June to mid-September, and sometimes closes at other times of year if weather conditions make the crossing from the mainland too hazardous.
Perth Wildlife Encounters also offers the chance to swim with dolphins in Perth with an experienced guide and all equipment and snorkelling tuition provided - no experience required. You need to be patient, as it can take up to an hour to locate a pod of dolphins. Once in the water, all you have to do is float and watch the dolphins playing underneath and around you!
The Swan River
Less certain and therefore exhilarating is the opportunity to spot dolphins near the mouth of the Swan River in Perth. Dolphins tend to gather where the water is deep and they can easily herd schools of fish. For the best chance of dolphin watching near Perth, head to Blackwall Reach, Deepwater Point or the stretch between Matilda Bay and the Narrows Bridge. Blackwall Reach is close to Point Walter, a pretty stretch of foreshore with a sand spit, where you can also see waterbirds feeding and resting and relax in the café.
The Narrows Bridge has the benefit of creating a natural funnel, which gives dolphins an opportunity to find a lot of fish in a small area. Look for them between here and Matilda Bay, and in the wake of the ferries. Combine your dolphin watching trip with a visit to beautiful Kings Park.
Deepwater Point is another section that forces fish into a deep spot, ideal for dolphin feeding. Take a picnic or visit Deep Water Point Café, go for a swim or walk along the foreshore, visit Heathcote Reserve for refreshing river views, and look out for sea birds too.