If you come across a seal, there are some rules you need to remember to ensure your safety and to minimise your impact on the seal.

The rules at a glance

  • Do not approach within 30 metres of a seal on land, whether you are also on land or in the water.
  • Dogs are not permitted within 50 metres of a seal on land.
  • Do not approach within 5 metres of a seal on a boat ramp, pier, jetty or other infrastructure connected to land and designed for access to the water.
  • Do not approach on a vessel within 30 metres of a seal haul out site.
  • If you are swimming, do not approach within 5 metres of a haul out site.
  • Dogs must not enter the water within 150 metres of a dolphin, 300 metres of a whale or 50 metres of a seal.
  • It is illegal to touch or feed a seal.

Keep your distance

Approaching closer than 30 metres to a seal on land is likely to scare the animal back into the water. Seals see us as predators and they may hurt themselves or their young trying to flee. Seals will be on land for a reason, such as to rest or moult. We should keep our distance.

At boat ramps and similar structures, such as piers and jetties, you must stay at least five metres away from seals.

The only exception to this rule is if you need to move past a seal for safe passage.

At seal haul out sites, where seals congregate but don't breed (e.g. Chinaman's Hat in Port Phillip Bay), you must stay at least five metres from the seals if you are swimming, and at least 30 metres away if you are in a recreational vessel, other than a jet ski.

Jet skis must remain at least 50 metres from a seal on a haul out site.

Licensed tour operators are permitted to approach closer than distances detailed above, subject to a range of other operating conditions.

Additional restrictions apply to approaching seal-breeding colonies. See Protected areas for further information.

Seals and dogs

Seals and dogs don't mix. If you are in a boat, you must not let your dog enter the water within 50 metres of a seal, within 150 metres of a dolphin or within 300 metres of a whale.

If you are walking your dog, keep it at least 50 metres away from seals.

This will not only reduce stress for the seal, but reduce the chance of your dog getting bitten or contracting a disease. Dogs can also transfer diseases to seals.

Do not feed the seals

Never attempt to feed seals. Seals can quickly become dependent on humans, and in some situations can become a nuisance or even dangerous.

Feeding fish scraps to seals at boat ramps can result in people getting bitten and the animal having to be euthanised.

When do seals on land need our help?

Normal seal behaviour

Seals often lie on beaches or other areas to rest or moult. This is normal.

Sometimes they can also look injured when they are actually not. For example, seals secrete a watery substance from their eyes which is often mistaken for crying or an injury, but it is a natural mechanism to protect their eyes.

Seals are also regularly bitten or scratched by other seals. Such wounds heal quickly and don't need human help.

Seals displaying the following behaviours should be left alone

Seals often raise a flipper in the air when lying on land or swimming. This is a natural behaviour they use to keep cool. People sometimes mistake this as a seal in distress. Seals holding flippers in the air should be left alone.

Seals often fight with each other over territory or a mate, resulting in minor cuts or bites. Such wounds normally heal quickly and don't need human help. Animals with minor wounds or wounds into muscle should be left alone.

A healthy seal may show little or no movement when resting, even when approached. Provided you see no obvious injuries, entanglements or ribs showing, inactive seals should be left alone.

Seals continuously secrete tears to lubricate their eyes. People often mistake this secretion as an eye infection. This is natural and not of concern. If the eyes are not cloudy, then the seal should be left alone.

Female seals have four mammary glands and males have a genital opening on their abdomen. These can be mistaken for wounds. These are natural and the animals should be left alone.

Some species of seal come ashore to moult. This is a natural occurrence, and these animals should be left alone.

Seal pups are commonly left on their own for several days while their mothers are feeding at sea. Such pups should be left alone unless injured. The mother may be nearby and your presence may cause it to abandon the pup.

Around November each year, pups are weaned and have to learn to feed on their own. During this period, juveniles in poor condition can often be found resting on our beaches. Unless in a dangerous location or in poor condition (see above), these animals should be left alone to recover and return to their colonies of their own accord.

Seals in distress

These signs and behaviours indicate a seal may be in distress.  If you believe the seal needs human help, contact the Marine Response Unit on 1300 245 678 or call us on 136 186.

Found in a dangerous locationSeals sometime come ashore at places that are not safe. If you find a seal on a road, a busy beach or unusual location where its safety may be at risk, report it immediately.
Poor body conditionSeals may suffer from poor health or body condition due to sickness, old age, dehydration or lack of food. If you see an animal that appears to be in poor condition (for example, ribs or hip bones showing), report it immediately.
Eye injuries and infectionsEye injuries and infections can affect a seal's ability to hunt. If the eye injury looks like it is healing, the animal will likely be okay. If the eye is cloudy or is heavily secreting mucous, report it immediately.
Entangled sealSeals occasionally become entangled in netting or other foreign objects. An entangled seal needs help as soon as possible to remove entangled material, so report it immediately.

A reference guide for helping injured seals

The Seals and People brochure will help you to know when a seal needs human help and should be reported to either the Marine Response Unit or DELWP.

It includes an identification guide of the species of seals found in Victoria.

Seals and People: A reference guide for helping injured seals (PDF, 2.8 MB)

How do I report a sick or injured seal?

Before reporting a seal in need of assistance, make a note of:

  • the species
  • the approximate age (pup, juvenile or adult)
  • the body condition (poor or healthy)
  • the extent and location of injuries on animal
  • any movement (or lack of movement)
  • the nature of any entanglement (type of material and location on the animal)
  • the seal's location.

Seriously injured or entangled seals should be reported:

Marine Response Unit1300 245 678
Our Customer Service Centre136 186

Page last updated: 04/04/23