Marine mammal permits allow commercial operators to conduct organised tours to see whales, seals and dolphins in the wild.

The Wildlife (Marine Mammals) Regulations 2019 protect seals, dolphins and whales in Victoria and include rules for commercial tour operators.

Permits are available for whale and seal watching tours as well as swimming with whales.

Permits allow vessels to approach closer than recreational vessels, but strict conditions apply.

To apply for a marine mammal permit for whale or seal watching submit your completed application to wildlifelicensing@delwp.vic.gov.au

Marine Mammal Tour Permit Application (doc)

Marine Mammal Tour Permit Application (pdf)

Call for Dolphin Swim Tour Permits in the Port Phillip Bay Limited Permit Area

Applications for Dolphin Swim Tour Permits in the Port Philip Bay Limited Permit Area are now invited.

A maximum of four permits are available.  Permits are available for the period between 1 November 2020 to 30 June 2025.

Applicants must complete the Dolphin Swim Tour Application Form and address the assessment criteria.  Applications must be submitted electronically to wildlifelicensing@delwp.vic.gov.au by no later than 2:00pm Thursday 8 October 2020.  Late and/or incomplete applications will not be considered.   

Dolphin Swim Tour Permit Application for Port Phillip Bay (pdf)

Dolphin Swim Tour Permit Application for Port Phillip Bay (doc)

All applications will be assessed against the criteria outlined in the Dolphin Swim Tour Permit Application Form for the Port Phillip Bay Limited Permit Area.

For further information, please refer to the attached frequently asked questions.

Dolphin Swim Tour FAQs

Types of marine mammal permits

Whale swim permits allow tour guests to enter the water with whales or dolphins. Whale swim permits can only be issued within a limited permit area and are allocated via a competitive process.

Whale swim permits cost $1792 per year.

Seal tour permits cost $385 per year.

Seal tour permits allow tour operators to conduct boat-based tours up to the 'tour operator exclusion zone' of seal colonies.

The distance of the tour operator exclusion zone from the low water mark differs during breeding season and non-breeding season, as well as between seal breeding colonies.

There are six declared seal breeding colonies in Victoria:

  • Seal Rocks, off Phillip Island
  • Kanowna Island, off Wilsons Promontory
  • Cape Bridgewater, near Portland in western Victoria
  • Lady Julia Percy Island, 6km off the coast of western Victoria near Port Fairy
  • Rag Island, in the Cliffy Group of islands east of Wilsons Promontory
  • The Skerries, in Croajingolong National Park in eastern Victoria

Aircraft-based tours from either fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters are permitted to approach up to 300m of a seal at a protected seal breeding colony without the need for a permit. No hovering over the animals is permitted.

You do not need a seal tour permit if your tour does not approach closer than the prescribed minimum distance for a seal breeding colony. For example, if you take boat tours to the seal breeding colony at Cape Bridgewater but do not approach closer than 100m between 1 November and 28 February or 50m between 1 March and 31 October.

Whale watching permits (boat-based) cost $385 per year.

Whale watching permits (boat-based) allow tour operators to conduct commercial boat-based tours that can approach up to 100m of a whale or 50m of a dolphin. Permits may also be subject to additional conditions.

Use of jet skis or other personal watercraft as well as hovercraft and remote-operated vessels are not allowed for whale watching tours.

You do not need a whale watching tour permit if you do not wish to take tours closer than the prescribed minimum distances of 200m for a whale or 100m for a dolphin.

Whale watching tour permits for aircraft are available cost $385 per year.

Whale watching permits for aircraft (including all fixed wing aircraft and helicopters) allow tour operators to conduct commercial tours within a 300m radius, flying no lower than 300m over a whale or dolphin. Aircraft are not allowed to hover over marine mammals. Permits may also be subject to additional conditions.

You do not need a whale watching tour permit (aircraft-based) if you do not wish to conduct tours closer than 500m to a whale or dolphin.

Tour Operator Licences

Any tour conducted in state waters or on Crown land require a Tour Operator Licence.

Tour Operator Licences are managed by Parks Victoria. For more information on these licences and an application form, visit Parks Victoria

Limited Permit Areas

A review of the Port Phillip Bay Whale (Dolphin) Swim Tour Limited Permit Area has recently occurred.

As a result, a new Whale (Dolphin) Swim Tour Limited Permit Area and Whale (Dolphin) Watching Limited Permit Area has been determined for Port Phillip Bay. The 2010 determination has been revoked.

Under the new determinations, four dolphin swim permits will be available for Port Phillip Bay. No dolphin watching permits will be available.

A summary of the submissions that were made on earlier proposed Whale (Dolphin) Swim Tour and Whale (Watching) Swim Tour Limited Permit Area determinations, and responses to points raised in the submissions, is provided below.

Response to submissions – Review of Limited Permit Area for Port Phillip Bay (DOCX, 291.9 KB)

Response to submissions – Review of Limited Permit Area for Port Phillip Bay (PDF, 303.0 KB)

Page last updated: 17/09/20