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Important Whale Watching Guidelines

Whale watching in South Australia is an increasingly popular form of eco-toursim. However, there are some important guidelines and laws to follow in order to  to protect the gentle giants that visit our shores.

Vessels

1. Personal watercraft (including jet skis) are prohibited from launching and must not operate within the Victor Harbor Restricted Area during whale season. (1 May through to 30 September.) In all other waters, at all times they must keep a minimum distance of 300 metres from any marine mammal. (whales, dolphins, seals etc.)

2. Within the Encounter Bay Restricted Area all vessels must maintain a minimum distance of 300 metres from any marine mammal. Vessels outside of the Restricted Area must maintain a minimum 100 metres distance from a whale and 50 metres from other marine mammals. (dolphins, seals etc.)

3. Vessels in all waters must get no closer than 300m to a whale with a calf, or a whale showing signs of disturbance.

4. Vessels in all waters must get no closer than 150m to any other marine mammal with offspring, or showing signs of disturbance. 

5. If a vessel unexpectedly finds itself in breach of the minimum distance(s) they must; 
a) Move away from the mammal at a slow “no-wake” speed of less than 4 knots. OR
b) In the event that the mammal is too close to safely move away, a vessel may cut it’s motor and wait until it is safe to do so. A vessel may not drop anchor, and may not wait longer than a 60 minute time frame within breach of the minimum distance.

6. A vessel is not permitted to follow a whale, or position itself in front of an approaching whale. 

Aircraft

1. In South Australia regulations apply to the viewing of marine mammals. Regulations require aircraft (including Remote Piloted Aircraft such as drones) to maintain a minimum distance of 300m from whales. Aircraft at the minimum distance must not hover over the animal and whales must not be approached by RPA from the front.

2. Under the National Parks and Wildlife Regulations 2016, anyone flying a remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA) in SA’s national parks, reserves and marine park restricted access zones must have a permit. 

External Resources

For current regulations, please refer to:

To report a whale watching infringement, including vessel/aircraft within the whale approach limits, please download a report form.

Infringement reports and images can be forwarded to Marine Parks at marineparks@sa.gov.au or phone 8204 1910.

To report anyone launching or operating a JET SKI within the Victor Harbor Restricted Area during whale season, please contact the South Coast Marine Safety Officer, Pat Sparks on 0400 696 931

For more information on regulations contact the National Parks & Wildlife SA Victor Harbor office 08 8552 3677.

Enjoy whale watching – From a distance

The Department of the Environment and Energy is reminding the general public to keep a safe distance when observing whales this season.