Why do we have marine mammal approach distances?
Due to the popularity of whale and dolphin watching activities the Commonwealth developed The Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching 2017. The Commonwealth, states and territories agreed to introduce consistent regulations for marine mammal protection in all jurisdictions so the same rules applied across Australia. These regulations are aimed at reducing disturbance to marine animals, ensuring their welfare is maintained.
In NSW, these regulations are contained in the Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017.
Approach distance (referred to in Section 2.3 of the Regulation): a distance beyond which a vessel or person may not approach a marine mammal. These differ depending on the marine mammal in question. Table 1 details the defined approach distances.
Table 1: Declared approach distances for marine mammals in NSW
|Type of marine mammal||When you are on a prohibited vessel||When you are on a vessel other than a prohibited vessel||When you are swimming*||When you are on land|
|Predominantly white whales||500m||500m||30m|
|Dolphins and dugongs||300m||50m||30m|
|Adult seals and sea lions in the water||10m||10m||10m||10m|
|Adult seals and sea lions hauled out on land||40m||40m||40m||40m|
|Seal and sea lion pups when on land or in the water||80m||80m||80m||80m|
*distances apply when you are already in the water. You must not enter the water within 100 metres of a whale or within 50 metres of a dolphin or dugong.
Caution zone: a distance of between 100 metres and 300 metres from a whale and between 50 metres and 150 metres from a dolphin or dugong. In the caution zone, vessels must travel at a constant slow speed and leave a negligible wake. No more than two vessels are permitted in the caution zone. Prohibited vessels are not permitted within the caution zone for any marine mammal.
Negligible wake: wake that does not create waves big enough to make nearby boats move.
Prohibited vessels: these are vessels that can make fast and erratic movements and not much noise underwater, so there is more chance they may collide with a marine mammal. Such vessels include personal motorised watercraft like jet skis, parasail boats, hovercraft, hydrofoils, wing-in-ground effect craft, remotely operated craft or motorised diving aids like underwater scooters. These vessels are not permitted within 300 metres of any whale, dolphin, or dugong.
Vessels: these are watercraft that can be used as transport including motorised or non-motorised boats, surfboards, surf skis and kayaks.