If you’re looking for one of the best places in the world to see killer whales (orcas) then head to Bremer Bay, Western Australia!
Only visible by going on a dedicated boat trip, getting to see these fascinating apex predators in their natural environment is quite literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one of the best things to do in WA!
Read on for all you need to know about the orca experience with Naturaliste Charters.
Where Is Bremer Bay?
Bremer Bay is a small fishing town located on the south coast of Western Australia – in the Great Southern Region between Esperance and Albany.
It is 180km (about 2 hours drive) east of Albany and 500km (about 5.5 hours drive) southeast of Perth.
Why Is Bremer Bay Known For Its Killer Whales?
The Bremer Canyon – an underwater canyon on the edge of the continental shelf about 50km offshore from Bremer Bay, is home to a unique population of around 200 orcas in the summer months.
These orcas are referred to as the “Bremer Bay Killer Whales”, and you will find the greatest density of orcas in the whole southern hemisphere here!
The orcas come here to the Southern Ocean in the summer months in large numbers to feed as this ocean is very rich in food.
These orcas are actually said to be the healthiest orca population in the world due to the rich variety of food they have here!
Their main food source that they hunt for in the Bremer Canyon is giant squid and beaked whale, which can be found in abundance.
When Is The Best Time To See The Orcas In Bremer Bay?
From January until mid-April, boat trips run daily to see the majestic and instantly recognisable black and white orcas at Bremer Canyon.
People come to visit from all over the world and the orca tours have really put Bremer Bay on the map!
Throughout the rest of the year orca trips don’t happen (you will however be able to see the Southern Right Whale migration from July to November).
If you want to experience a killer whale tour you need to visit Bremer Bay between January and mid-April!
How To See The Orcas At Bremer Bay
To have a chance of seeing the orcas at Bremer Canyon, you’ll need to go on a full-day boat trip. The orcas are located around 50km off-shore so you won’t be able to spot any from land.
There are two companies that offer killer whale (orca) watching expeditions from Bremer Bay: Naturaliste Charters and Whale Watch Western Australia (also known as Bremer Bay Killer Whales).
Both companies charge $385 for the day trip and afterwards email you complimentary photos taken on your trip by a professional photographer.
They also both offer free return trips if no orcas are sighted (which rarely happens – sightings are pretty reliable).
So which company to pick?
Naturaliste Charters – a family-owned company, were the first company to start doing the Bremer Bay orca expeditions.
They have been running killer whale tours here at Bremer Bay the longest – since 2015, which was one of the main reasons why we chose to go with them.
Another reason we wanted to go with Naturaliste Charters was because they are out on the water the longest (8 hours as opposed to 7) – which means more value for money AND more chances to spot orcas, hurrah!
They also have a Marine Biologist onboard which we loved the idea of. We have done several marinelife trips in the past where a Marine Biologist has been onboard and we have learnt so much from them.
As we were really keen to learn more about orcas, we were excited to have a Marine Biologist onboard who would be able to provide us with lot of information about the orcas, as well as a write up afterwards emailed to us of what we saw on our expedition! So Naturaliste Charters it was!
What Can You Expect On The Bremer Canyon Killer Whale (Orca) Expedition With Naturaliste Charters
Arrive at 7.45am to the Bremer Bay Boat Harbour (Swarbrick Road) ready for an 8am boarding. After the mandatory safety briefings the boat will depart at around 8.30am, ready for an exciting day on the water!
As The Patch (the orca feeding ground area of the Bremer Canyon you’ll visit) is about 50km offshore, it will take around 90 minutes each way to reach the hotspot.
You can use this time to help yourself to some tea and biscuits, watch the TV screens that give an informative explanation about the orcas, their behaviours and characteristics, or look at some of the books at the front of the boat that give more information on orcas.
You may however just wish to sit outside at the back of the boat and watch the horizon – it is a bumpy boat ride with some big waves! Many people will feel seasick – even those who usually don’t suffer from motion sickness.
I strongly recommend everyone to take anti-nausea tablets before they get to the boat. Prevention is always better than cure, and once you’re feeling seasick it’s too late to take tablets, so best to just take them.
Seasickness really isn’t nice, and you don’t want it to ruin your day with the orcas!
Naturaliste Charters have a very sturdy and safe boat, built for these waters – but it’s important to remember this is the Southern Ocean/Antarctic Ocean and it does get rough out there!
The boat is very modern, with toilets, air-con and plenty of space both inside and outside. There are viewing areas at the front, back and side of the boat, as well as upstairs.
There’s also an outdoor day bed on the deck downstairs if you need a little lie-down!
Staff will regularly give a commentary about the marine life as you’re out spotting them, plus they’ll bring around delicious food and you can help yourself to drinks.
You’ll have over 4 hours of orca spotting time, where hopefully you’ll get to see orcas breaching, coming up to the boat, surging and on the hunt for food.
You’ll also probably see plenty of other species as well – including migratory seabirds and marine life species such as pilot whales, dolphins and sperm whales!
On the boat ride back you might also get to see some Australian sea lions or fur seals on the nearby Glasse Island as you come back to the boat harbour!
What To Bring On The Bremer Bay Killer Whale Orca Tour
- sea sickness tablets
- a windproof jacket (it can get windy out there, even in the summer months!)
- long pants – it will be too cold for shorts!
- a beanie/hat that won’t blow off if you have one. A couple of people even lost baseball caps to the wind, that’s how windy it can get!
- flat closed-in, non-slip shoes such as runners/trainers
- it’s a good idea to bring layers of clothes and not just one thick layer, so you can easily take them off or put them back on when required.
- camera. There will be a professional photographer onboard but it’s still always great to get your own memories!
- camera/phone charger if you’ll be taking a lot of photos and the battery might get low – there are charge points onboard.
- you may wish to bring binoculars if you have them.
Tips For Your Bremer Bay Killer Whale Orcas Tour
- Make sure to bring anti-seasickness tablets with you and take them BEFORE you get on the boat! Please do not underestimate this boat journey!
I only took one tablet an hour before the boat trip and one the night before, and I still felt seasick for most of the journey, so in hindsight I should have taken two each time!
Travelcalm and Kwells seasickness tablets are recommended. If however you don’t want to take seasickness tablets that make you feel drowsy, you can take the ginger tablets as they are non-drowsy.
If you feel nauseous, sit at the back of the boat outside and look at the horizon.
- Don’t be late as the boat won’t wait for you!
- Wear lots of layers and wear comfortable, securely fastened shoes so you can move around the boat easily.
- Look out for the sea birds as this is usually a good indicator that orcas are around as the seabirds are scavenging off the food scraps left over from the hunt!
Interesting Facts About Orcas We Learnt
Killer whales (orcinus orca) are actually dolphins! They are the largest member of the dolphin family, with a male orca weighing around 10,000kg and reaching a length of almost 10 metres!
The name ‘killer whale’ actually comes from the term ‘whale killer’ given to them by ancient sailors as they kill and eat whales, amongst other marinelife. The name then got switched around to be killer whale.
Despite them having the seemingly scary name ‘killer whale’ – wild orcas have never killed a human being in their natural environment.
Their diet is mainly squid, whales, seals and fish (sometimes even sharks) and they are actually very picky eaters!
Orcas are the apex predator of the ocean – they have no natural predators and they don’t hunt each other. They are the real kings of the ocean.
They are incredibly social and stay in family groups (pods), led by the matriarch (mother or even grandmother) for the whole of their life. Pods will consist of between 2 to 15 orcas.
Female and juvenile male orcas have a small and curved dorsal fin, whereas male orcas have a tall dorsal fin that can reach up to 2 metres – taller than a human!
The life expectancy of female orcas is around 50-80 years, whereas the life expectancy of a male orca is only around 30 years. Female orcas live longer than male orcas because the son often dies when his mother dies.
Female orcas give birth only about three times in their lifetime – between the ages of around 15-40. Incredibly, the other members of the pod will help to deliver the baby – who is born tail first.
When the orca pups are born, their white patches will usually appear orangey for the first few years of their life.
This is because their blood vessels are closer to the surface and they don’t have much blubber at that age, so the blod vessels are more visible. By around age 3-5, the orange colour has disappeared and appears white.
Orcas are one of the fastest marine mammals – capable to reach speeds of up to 55kph! What is fascinating about orcas is that they cooperate and hunt together for their food.
They are extremely clever and skilled hunters, and sometimes different pods even come together to hunt for food together.
By working together and coordinating their attack, they are able to take down even great white sharks (the only animal able to do so!). Orcas will pass on their hunting knowledge and experience to their offspring.
Orcas have adapted to be able to live in every ocean in the world – from the poles all the way to the tropics, and so they are the most widely distributed species of all dolphins and whales.
Interestingly, each orca pod has their own dialect! These Bremer Bay orcas apparently have a distinctly ‘Aussie dialect’ compared to other orcas!
The weather often affects the weather of the orcas. Calm weather = calm orcas, so not coming to the surface as much (not what we want!). You’re more likely to see orcas when the weather is a bit windy and rough.
Orcas use less energy in the water in this kind of weather and so they’ll often be breaching and splashing around more in rougher weather – which is great for everyone onboard!
Our Experience With The Orcas At Bremer Bay
Getting to watch these beautiful creatures hunting for food in their natural habitat was really the experience of a lifetime and something that had been on our bucket list for a while.
My partner and I are both crazy for marinelife experiences, whether it is swimming with manta rays, swimming with whales or sharks, or watching the magnificent humpback migration from our balcony in Bondi Beach every winter, we truly love marinelife experiences so we were really excited when we were booked on for the Bremer Bay Orca experience.
Shortly after we arrived at the orca feeding spot known as The Patch, we spotted a pod of around 8 sperm whales resting and moving slowly at the surface.
Sperm whales are the largest toothed whales and have a really big head – accounting for about a third of their body length! Their head is so big as it is filled with spermaceti – a waxy substance which helps the whales focus sound.
A few minutes later we spotted our first orca pod of 3 orcas. They briefly swam around the boat and then right underneath us at the front of the boat! It was magical to see them this close!
The orcas quickly left and then we were greeted by a pod of pilot whales who swam alongside the boat for a while. Pilot whales are another large member of the dolphin family so have some similar characteristics to orcas.
They are named pilot whales as they travel in very large groups and each pod has one leader – ‘pilot’ who the rest of the group follow, even if it leads them to their death.
It was great to see so many species of whales in such a short space of time!
A few minutes later a second pod of orcas approached us. I could tell by the large fin that it was a bull (male orca) and we could also see a tiny calf!
They stuck around for a few minutes but it went so quickly, and then they were replaced by another pod of pilot whales.
As pilot whales travel in large numbers, the orcas tend to avoid them and can even be chased off by the pilot whales, grrr!
There was no rest to be had for us whalewatching – the action was pretty constant! Staff came around with wraps for lunch and most of us ate our wraps standing up watching some orcas hunting – wrap in one hand, camera in the other!
We were too mesmerised to sit down to eat our lunch.
One of the crew pointed out a whale oil slick on the water, and told us that when you see an oil slick on top of the water (could be either from whales or squid) that that’s a big indicator that orcas will be around feeding!
This oil slick also attracted many seabirds as they are scavenging for any food scraps left behind after the hunt!
I was actually very impressed by the amount of birds we got to see on the trip – seabirds such as albatross and Shearwaters amongst others. We had been told if you find the birds, you’ll find the orcas.
Whenever you see the seabirds around feeding from the water that’s a good indicator that some orca feeding is happening under the surface of the water.
These seabirds can smell food up to 10km away, and so when you see many birds near the water you know there’s some food scraps up for grabs!
It was incredible to see so many seabirds around the small pod of orcas – plus even a whaler shark made a brief appearance!
In the afternoon, a pod of orcas was swimming about 100 metres away from us but in the same direction we were going, so we watched them as we sailed along, surging every now and then for several minutes which was great to see!
The staff were very professional, organised and friendly and we had a really great time onboard with Naturaliste Charters.
Is The Killer Whale Orca Experience At Bremer Bay With Naturaliste Charters Worth It?
Overall we had an absolutely fabulous day with the orcas at Bremer Bay. We got to see lots of orcas – it was definitely the highlight of our trip to Bremer Bay and is an absolute must when you come to Western Australia!
We are so glad we were able to experience this unforgettable moment and see these beautiful creatures in their natural environment.
How To Get To Bremer Bay
If coming directly from Perth, take the inland route along the Albany Highway/State Route 30. It will take 5.5 hours to drive. There is no public transport to Bremer Bay from Perth so car is the only way.
If coming from Albany, you can book on the tour that includes transfers to and from Albany from Bremer Bay. It will be a long day, but at least you can snooze whilst the driver is driving!
How Long To Spend In Bremer Bay
I recommend you spend at least 2 or 3 full days in Bremer Bay to really experience all it has to offer.
It’s understandable that not everyone has the luxury of time, but if you are just coming for a short trip from Perth, I definitely recommend you to drive down to Bremer Bay the day beforehand, stay overnight in Bremer Bay for a minimum of 2 nights (the night before and the night after your orca tour) and then drive back the following day.
Of course if you have the time, definitely spend longer in Bremer Bay as there is lots to see here!
It’s also wise to spend an extra night just incase your tour gets cancelled because of bad weather/unfavourable ocean conditions or you don’t spot orcas on the first day and so you get put on a boat the following day.
Unlikely, but it is a small possibility, and it would be a shame to drive all the way down and not get to see the orcas as you have to leave the next day!
It’s a long, tiring monotonous drive back to Perth, with not much to see along the way.
The road is remote, there are no street lights and there is the risk of kangaroos jumping out into the road, especially during dawn, dusk and at night, so it’s definitely best to do this drive during daylight hours when you are well-rested.
Remember boat tours often can make you feel tired, so I really don’t advise driving back or even part way back after your tour. Enjoy what Bremer Bay has to offer and then head back fresh the following day.
Things To Do In Bremer Bay
The small coastal town of Bremer Bay (with a population of less than 600 residents) actually has many things to do!
Of course – the orca expedition should be top of your list, but when you’re back on dry land hop in the car, explore the area and visit the absolutely fantastic beaches in Bremer Bay.
These were some of the best beaches in Australia I had seen – with soft white sand rivalling that of the Jervis Bay beaches, but there was almost not a soul in sight here!
The best beaches I absolutely recommend are: Native Dog Beach, Blossoms Beach and Short Beach.
Little Harbour Beach is also quite popular and very beautiful, but I preferred the other beaches more as they were more rugged and untouched and had perfect white sand!
Accommodation In Bremer Bay
There are a handful of accommodation options in Bremer Bay, from motels/hotels, holiday homes to caravan parks.
The most popular accommodation option is Bremer Bay Resort, with motel style rooms at roughly $160 a night.
They are basic, but it’s one of the closest accommodations to the Boat Harbour, and it’s a good place to stay for the night if you’ll be having some drinks as the bar and restaurant is very lively.
As there isn’t much accommodation available in Bremer Bay, it’s best to book in advance so you don’t run out of options!
Where To Go For Food & Drink In Bremer Bay
Bremer Bay Resort has a great selection of food and drinks at their bar and restaurant.
For groceries, head to the Bremer Bay Convenience Store.
Looking for other marinelife experiences in Western Australia?
Why not try snorkelling with sea lions in Jurien Bay, swimming with dolphins in Bunbury, swimming with manta rays in Coral Bay or swimming with the beautiful whale sharks in Exmouth!
This article is sponsored by Naturaliste Charters. All views and opinions expressed however are our own.
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Catrina is a Travel Writer, SEO Specialist and ex-Flight Attendant based in Sydney, Australia. She has visited 85 countries and lived in several – including Italy, Australia, United Arab Emirates and England. Her work has been featured in a variety of popular travel publications including Fodors, Escape, Australian Traveller and Bear Grylls, as well as several international aviation and travel companies. The majority of her work however features on her own website – 24hourslayover.com where she has written over 500 travel articles!