Watch out, whales about!

Each year Australians have the box seat for one of the world’s great natural wonders –whale migrations. Every winter thousands of whales leave the cold waters of Antarctica where they spent the summer feeding and head north to warm Australian waters to breed and give birth. And then late spring they head south again to their feeding grounds in the Antarctic.

The whales we are most likely to see hugging our coastline on their migrations are humpback and southern right whales. As more Australians are discovering, it can be a humbling and awe-inspiring experience to see these huge marine mammals in the wild.

We are also lucky to have many species of dolphins and smaller whales as residents or visitors to our coastal waters and these can be more difficult to spot when travelling at speed or when sea conditions are less smooth.

To help keep them (and you) safe there are national and state regulations and rules about how close you should get when on the water:

Keep watch - look for a spout in the distance or a breach where the whale launches itself clear out of the water. If you see someone deliberately going too close or harassing the animals make a note of their boat licence number, take a photo and report it (details below)

Keep it down - if you come across a gentle giant or friendly dolphin while on the water, slow down, keep noise levels down, let them amaze you and consider how lucky you have been to see them swimming free.

Keep your distance - please remember that we need to minimise disturbance so don’t get closer than 100m to whales (300m if calf present) and 50m to dolphins (150 metres if calf present).

*Note, in Victoria boats are not permitted closer than 200m to whales and 100m to dolphins.

  • Boats should not drift or approach a dolphin any closer than 50m and a whale any closer than 100m and not directly from the rear or the front of the animal;
  • Boats should travel at slow speeds within 150m of a dolphin and 300m of a whale;
  • No more than 3 vessels should be within the so-called caution zone (150m of a dolphin and 300m of a whale) at any one time.
  • If a whale (other than a calf) approaches your vessel or comes within the caution zone you must disengage the gears and let the whale approach or reduce the speed of the vessel and continue on a course away from the whale.
  • If a calf approaches your boat, you should immediately stop the vessel and turn off the engines, disengage the gears, or withdraw from the caution zone at a constant speed of less than 6 knots.
  • If a dolphin approaches you should move away with no sudden changes in vessel speed or course.
  • Jet skis must stay at least 300m away and if approached by a cetacean the jet ski must move away slowly (less than 6 knots or roughly brisk walking pace) until they are at least 300m away.

If you see anyone harassing or disturbing whales or dolphins get as much information as you can and report it:

Information needed includes, date and time, location, vessel type and name, a photo if possible, as many details as you can.

National and State Regulations and Contacts:



National Whale and Dolphin Watching Guidelines


Commonwealth waters

1800 110 395 or email


NSW Regulations

Environment Line 131 555


Queensland Regulations

Great Barrier Marine Park Regulations

Department of Environment and Resource Management 1300 130 372

 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625)

 Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (07) 4750 0700 


South Australia Regulations

General information (08) 8124 4860

Enforcement of the Regulations, Investigations and Compliance Unit Pager 1300 650

411 (pager no. 465393)


Tasmania Guidelines

Sightings and strandings hotline

0427 WHALES (0427 942 537) 

Marine Mammal Conservation Program (03) 6233 6556      


Victoria Regulations

General information, Department of Sustainability and Environment 136 186

Marine Mammal Conservation Program (03) 6233 6556    


West Australia Regulations

(08) 9219 8000      

Wildlife Watch to report illegal wildlife activity 1800 449 453


If you’re having trouble getting through to an Authority or are unsure who to contact you can call IFAW on 1 800 IFAW or email us on

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