Marine lovers are in for a whale of a time when the new Australian Underwater Discovery Centre (AUDC) – set to be the largest marine observatory in the world – opens in Western Australia by early 2023.

Based on a design by British firm Baca Architects, the new whale-shaped structure will be partially submerged at the end of the 1.8-kilometre, heritage-listed Busselton Jetty, which extends over the protected waters of Geographe Bay.

Busselton, a 2.5-hour drive south of Perth, is a pretty tourist town famous for its jetty and annual whale migrations, which take place from September to December. Here the cold waters of the Southern Ocean meet warm waters from the Indian Ocean, creating a unique underwater environment.

Dubbed “the Cetacean”, the design features an abstract likeness of the marine mammal with its head peering up out of the water. The submerged part of the structure will include 5.5-metre-tall windows gazing out into a seagrass meadow, while above water more windows offer views of the endless ocean and the pier leading back to Busselton.

Inside, guests can descend through the building to an underwater dining experience, an art gallery, exhibition spaces and a marine research centre, which will help educate the public on clean oceans and the effects of climate change.

The Cetacean’s exterior is designed to provide a thriving habitat for fish and corals, with a bio-receptive structure allowing barnacles and algae to take hold – just as they do on whales. There will be underwater sculptures, too, which will provide additional habitat and protection for the marine life.

The structure is a collaboration between architects Baca, marine contractor Subcon and project engineers Coremarine, which also delivered a Norwegian underwater restaurant 5.5 metres below water.

The project is estimated to cost $30 million, with funding from both the federal and state governments, as well as contributions from Busselton Jetty Inc, which operates the current underwater observatory, and the City of Busselton.

The Australian Underwater Discovery Centre is slated to open in early 2023.