Marine mammal permits allow commercial operators to conduct organised tours to see whales, seals and dolphins in the wild.
The Wildlife (Marine Mammal) Regulations 2009 are a set of laws to protect seals, dolphins and whales in Victoria, including 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, complete the application and return it to:
Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
475 Mickleham Rd
Attwood VIC 3049
Types of marine mammal permits
Whale swim permits allow tour guests to enter the water with whales or dolphins.
Dolphin swim tour permits within the Port Phillip Bay Limited Permit Area are allocated via a competitive process.
In 2013, these permits were fully allocated and will expire in June 2019.
Whale swim permits cost $639.90 per year.
Seal tour permits cost $298.60 per year.
Seal tour permits allow tour operators to conduct boat-based tours up to 50m of seal colonies declared as ‘protected’ seal breeding colonies between 1 November and 28 February (the breeding season for seals) or up to 30m between 1 March and 31 October each year. Tours are also permitted up to 10m of ‘significant’ seal breeding colonies, year round.
One 'significant' breeding colony is at Seal Rocks, off Phillip Island.
There are four protected seal breeding colonies in Victoria:
- 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 Wilson's 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 50m of a protected or significant seal breeding colony during breeding season or 100m between 1 March and 31 October. For example, boat tours to Chinaman's Hat do not require a seal tour permit.
Also, you do not need a 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 ‘protected’ 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 $298.60 per year.
Whale watching permits (boat-based) allow tour operators to conduct commercial boat-based tours that can approach up to 100 metres (m) 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 200m of a whale or 100m of a dolphin.
Whale watching tour permits for aircraft are available cost $355.50 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 of a whale or dolphin.
Tour Operator Licences
Any tour conducted in state waters or on Crown Land require a Tour Operator Licence.
Tour Operator Licenses are managed by Parks Victoria. For more information on these licenses and an application form, visit Parks Victoria
Review of regulations
The Wildlife (Marine Mammals) Regulations 2009 must be reviewed and remade before they expire in November 2019. We are seeking feedback on the current regulations to inform the review.
More information on how to have your say can be found at Whales, dolphins and seals.