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Water based Whale and Dolphin Watching Guidelines

Breaching Humpback whale

Water-based whale watching is becoming more popular in NSW especially when the Humpback whales travel north to the tropics where the pregnant females will give birth. On their return to the Antarctic the mothers and calves take their time and you may be lucky to view a mother nursing her calf off one of the beaches.  Another area that the Humpback whales frequently visit with their newborn calves is Jervis Bay.  Therefore, we can all appreciate that disturbance by vessels has the potential to adversely affect these awhales.

Harassing whales will severely stress them - which could ultimately cause accidents, should the whale/s feel under threat, not only to the whales but humans too.  This is especially important in the case of adults with calves, which may be either suckling or resting.  Research has proven that whales are highly sensitive to engine noises.  Another point to be aware of is that when males are competing for females that there can be very rough physical contact.

There are regulations set in place for whale watching as whales are protected. These regulations have been designed to allow whale watching to be enjoyable and safe, without interference to the whales.

The basic rules when near whales and dolphins are to:

  • 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 300m to any mother and calf, 100m to any adult whale or 50m to any dolphin.




  • For a prohibited vessel, the approach distance is always 300m from a whale or dolphin.

  • Helicopters or gyrocopters must not get closer (in height or distance) than 500m to a whale or dolphin.

  • Other planes must not get closer (in height or distance) than 300m to a whale or 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.

Migaloo has been given “special status” in both NSW and Queensland, with hefty fines imposed for breaching the approach zones for observing this animal.

  • In NSW, the approach distances are 500m for a vessel and 600m for jet ski and aircraft.

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.

Vessels: these are watercraft that can be used as transport including motorised or non-motorised boats, surfboards, surf skis and kayaks.

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