All cetaceans (whales and dolphins) are protected in Australian waters under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act 1999).
National Guidelines for whale watching in Australia state that “swimmers (including snorkellers) and divers should not enter the water closer than 100m to a whale or 50m to a dolphin, and should not approach closer than 30m to any animal.”
Swimming with dwarf minke whales
Swimming with dwarf minke whales in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is conducted under special endorsements, administered by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). Only a limited number of commercial tourism vessels are permitted to conduct swims with dwarf minke whales. This specific endorsement allows these operators to:
- Place swimmers in the water for the purpose of swimming with whales
- Place swimmers in the water less than 100m (but not closer than 30m) from dwarf minke whales
- Use an aircraft or additional vessel to find whales
Vessels that do not have this specific endorsement are not permitted to conduct the above activities and must adhere to the Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching 2005 at all times when interacting with whales. Vessels that are not endorsed for swimming-with-whales must not place swimmers in the water closer than 100m to a whale and must not place swimmers in the water for the purpose of swimming with whales.
Swimming-with-whales (SWW) endorsed operators must meet two permit conditions:
- Adherence to the Code of Practice for dwarf minke whale interactions in the GBRWHA, and
- The completion and submission of Whale Sighting Sheets (MWP website link) for all dwarf minke whale encounters.
The Minke Whale Project research team conduct analyses of the Whale Sighting Sheets and the results of these analyses are shared with the tourism industry, Reef managers and other key stakeholders at pre- and post-season workshops.