The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) will begin marine mammal patrols in coming weeks on the Gippsland Lakes and around Phillip Island.
Wildlife Officers will be making sure the public keeps their distance from marine mammals, including people flying drones.
DELWP Program Manager Compliance Operations, Craig Oldis said: “We’re increasingly noticing more drones appearing in popular recreational water areas in the region.”
“While drones don’t have large motors, many marine mammals are very sensitive to noise, and buzzing from a drone’s motors has the potential to cause distress to them.”
“There’s also potential for amateur operators to unintentionally strike the animals,” Mr Oldis said.
“Though it may be tempting to fly a drone close to these animals for a photo, our message is simple – just don’t. “We are asking beach goers and water users to behave responsibly around marine mammals to ensure these amazing animals aren’t harmed or stressed in their natural environment.”
Aircraft, including drones, are not allowed to fly within 500 vertical metres or within a 500-metre radius of whales, under the Wildlife Marine Mammals Regulations 2009.
The Australian Marine Mammal Foundation (MMF) is observing many instances of drones breaching regulations.
Australian Marine Mammal Foundation Founding Director and Principal Researcher, Dr Kate Charlton-Robb, said: “With the increasing accessibility and use of small and large drones, we’re seeing more of these being flown over marine mammals.”
“The issue has become so prevalent that the MMF plans to conduct research on the extent drones are impacting on dolphins in Port Phillip and the Gippsland Lakes.”
“When breaches of regulations occur, whether that be drones or vessels, it can cause undue stress to these animals, it can disturb behaviours like feeding, resting, mother-calf bonding and mating.”
Recreational boats must remain 100 metres away from dolphins, except if approached. Beach goers can allow the dolphins the option to approach by choice, but must leave them alone if the dolphins avoid humans.
Jet skis must remain 300 metres away from dolphins, and when walking or swimming, the public must stay 30m away from a seal on land, and five metres from a seal on structures like jetties.
For more information on the regulations, visit www.delwp.vic.gov.au or call 136 186.
Call the Whale and Dolphin Emergency Hotline on 1300 136 017 to report a whale or dolphin that is stranded, entangled or struck by a vessel.
If you see injured, sick or distressed marine wildlife, contact the AGL Marine Response Unit on 1300 AGL MRU (1300 245 678).