Water safety around marine mammals
Viewing dolphins, whales and seals is a unique and memorable experience, but they may see humans as a threat or be harmed by human activity. Follow the rules for the safety of all.
When marine mammals feel threatened, they may cause people harm. Cases have been reported where humans have been bitten by seals, knocked over by dolphins, or been hurt or killed trying to swim with large whales.
Likewise, grabbing onto a dolphin or seal might harm the animal and result in an injury to you. Boats and aircraft can also disturb, distress or harm marine mammals.
To protect whales, dolphins, seals and you, there are some rules about what you can and can't do when swimming or surfing around marine mammals.
Rules at a glance
It's important not to get too close to marine mammals when on the water. To reduce the risk of disturbance to natural behaviours:
boats are not permitted to approach within 100 metres of a dolphin or 200 metres of a whale
jet skis are not permitted within 300 metres of either a whale or dolphin
caution zones apply within 300 metres of a whale, within 150 metres of a dolphin and within 50 metres of a seal, subject to a range of other operating conditions.
It is illegal to touch or feed whales, dolphins or seals.
Do not swim or surf within 50 yards of a dolphin.
Do not swim or surf within 100 yards of a whale.
It's important not to get too close to marine mammals when on the water.
To reduce the risk of disturbance to natural behaviours:
boats are not permitted to approach within 100 yards of a dolphin or 200 yards of a whale
jet skis are not permitted within 300 yards of either a whale or dolphin
caution zones apply within 300 yards of a whale, within 150 yards of a dolphin and within 50 yards of a seal.
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Swimming & Surfing
Keep a safe distance. You must not swim or surf within 30 yards of a dolphin or 50 yards of a whale. These distances are sufficient to allow the animals to move away from you and to give you a chance to get out of their way.
Swimming with dolphins. Swimming with dolphins is only legal if conducted as part of a licensed tour and only if the dolphins choose to approach you. In all other situations, you must stay at least 50 yards away when swimming.
It is illegal to touch marine mammals. These are wild animals that generally don't like being touched by humans, and can bite, scratch or slap you with their fins.
Never attempt to feed marine mammals. Wild animals rarely (if ever) need to be fed by humans. Some animals such as seals may also become dependent on handouts and can become aggressive towards people.
Boating is a great way to see whales, dolphins and seals. However, boats can disturb the way marine mammals feed and behave.
To reduce these impacts there are limits on how close boats can get to marine mammals, as well as restrictions on the way they may operate when close by.
When in the caution zone, all vessels (motorized or not) must:
avoid sudden changes in direction
maintain a constant speed not exceeding 5 knots (7 miles per hour)
leave the caution zone if a marine mammal shows any sign of disturbance
not approach whales, dolphins, or seals directly in front of the animal
not approach whales, dolphins or seals from directly behind the animal
not be in the known path of a whale, dolphin or seal
not form a barrier between a marine mammal and its group
not come between a mother and her young.
If a marine mammal approaches you – if a dolphin decides to ride the bow wave of your boat or if it takes an interest in your vessel, for example – you are not committing an offense.
However, if you deliberately approach closer than the minimum prescribed distances you may be liable for prosecution.
In a narrow waterway (that is, waterways less than 300 yards wide), you cannot approach closer than 30 yards to a dolphin or 100 yards to a whale, unless navigating for safe passage.
There are no restrictions on how close you can get to a seal in the water but there are restrictions on boating around protected areas and seal breeding colonies, how you operate your boat around a seal and approaching seals on land.
Licensed tour operators are permitted to approach closer than distances detailed above, subject to a range of operating conditions.
By taking these small steps, you'll not only be doing the right thing by the animals, you'll be helping to make sure future generations can enjoy the sights and sounds of whales, dolphins and seals for a long time to come.