There are a number of guidelines in place for specified approach distances for marine mammals. The Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching clearly defines a set of standards for all human activity around cetaceans (dolphins and whales) pdf can also be obtained. These standards apply to commonwealth waters, three nautical miles from the coastline. Each State and Territory is responsible for guidelines and regulations within three nautical miles of the coastline.
The Australian Government clearly state the basic rules when near whales and dolphins.
- Remain quiet and do not try to feed or touch them.
- Be alert and watch for whales and dolphins at all times.
- When in a vessel, do not approach closer than 100m to any whale or 50m to any dolphin.
- The caution zone for vessels is the area within 300m of a whale and 150m of a dolphin. No more than three vessels are allowed within the caution zone at any one time and vessels should operate at no wake speeds within this zone.
- Approach whales and dolphins from parallel to and slightly to the rear – not from directly behind or head-on.
- When leaving whales or dolphins, move off at a slow (no wake) speed to the outer limit of the caution zone (300m) from the closest animal before gradually increasing speed.
- Keep a lookout and avoid disturbance to mother whales or dolphins and their calves. Mother and calf will be close together and the calves are sometimes difficult to see.
- If there is a sudden change in whale or dolphin behaviour, move away immediately at a slow steady pace.
- Whales and dolphins sometimes form social groupings and may approach your vessel – if this happens place the engine in neutral and let the animal(s) come to you; or slow down and continue on course; or steer a straight course away from them.
- Do not get into the water if you see a whale or dolphin. If you’re already in the water do not disturb, chase or block the path of a whale or dolphin and if possible, return to your vessel or the shore.
State and Territory Guideline links:
New South Wales