DELWP is conducting an operation to protect whales along the southwest coast.

A Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) compliance operation to protect whales along the southwest coast will closely monitor drones and powered boats.

Forest & Wildlife Officers begin patrols today, targeting coastal waters off Portland, Port Fairy, Warrnambool, Lorne and Apollo Bay during the whale breeding season.

Operation Lisburn will ensure vessels and aircraft are keeping a safe distance from the region’s critically endangered Southern Right Whales and other whale species.

DELWP Program Manager of Compliance Operations Mark Breguet said: “Our patrols will be working on weekends and weekdays until the end of October.

“We are aiming to speak to hundreds of people about keeping the required distance away from whales.

“As well as raising awareness about the risks of vessels being near whales, officers will monitor boating activities and investigate when boat operators are found to be too close to whales.

“Operation Lisburn will see a particular focus on the use of drones around whales, which is an emerging and challenging issue for us.

“In the last two years we’ve seen a sharp rise in suspected illegal drone activity around whales, through content on social media and reports from the public about drones flying close to whales.

“We appreciate that drone operators are keen to capture photos and footage of these majestic mammals, however the buzzing from drone motors has the potential to distress whales.

“Unless drone operators have a special wildlife permit, these aircraft are not permitted to fly within 500 metres of whales.

“Only when granted a special wildlife permit are operators allowed to have drones within 500 metres, abiding by strict conditions including monitoring behavioural responses of whales.

“In the last week we’ve had several reports of drones flying too close to whales at Portland and we’re currently investigating these matters.

“We need the public to understand that when vessels or drones operate near whales, these vulnerable mammals are at risk of being distressed – or worse, struck and injured.”

Boaters and drone operators who are found to have ignored minimum distance requirements face fines of up to $3,223.80 under the Wildlife (Marine Mammals) Regulations 2009.

Recreational boaters must remain 200 metres from whales, while high impact vessels, such as jetskis, must remain 300 metres away.

Swimmers must not approach within 50 metres of a whale and aircraft, including drones, are not permitted within 500 metres.

Anyone who observes boats or aircraft breaching minimum distance requirements is urged to note the details and report incidents immediately to the DELWP Customer Service Centre on 136 186.