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Marine mammal tour permits

Companies or individuals running tours to see whales, dolphins or seals in Victoria may need a permit.

Marine mammal permits issued under the Wildlife Act 1975 allow commercial operators to conduct organised tours to see whales, dolphins in the wild and at designated seal colonies.

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.

Dolphin swim tour permits in the Port Phillip Bay area

The Wildlife Act allows for the number of permits to be limited where necessary to protect marine mammals in particular locations. A Limited Permit Area is declared for Port Phillip Bay, and a maximum of 4 tour permits for swimming with dolphins can be granted within this area.

A competitive tender process was conducted in 2020, and 4 Dolphin Swim Tour Permits in the Port Philip Bay Limited Permit Area have been issued for the period to 30 June 2025.

No applications will be accepted for Dolphin Swim Tour Permits in Port Phillip Bay until an existing permit becomes available. A new competitive tender process will be conducted should one (or more) permit become available for Port Phillip Bay.

Prior to 30 June 2025, the Limited Permit Area Determination will be reviewed and a new determination made. A new competitive process for any available permits will then be advertised.

Types of marine mammal permits

Seal watching 

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 6 declared seal breeding colonies in Victoria:

  1. Seal Rocks, off Phillip Island
  2. Kanowna Island, off Wilsons Promontory
  3. Cape Bridgewater, near Portland in western Victoria
  4. Lady Julia Percy Island, 6km off the coast of western Victoria near Port Fairy
  5. Rag Island, in the Cliffy Group of islands east of Wilsons Promontory
  6. 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 (boat-based)

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 are also subject to additional conditions to help minimise the impact of these tours on whales.

Use of jet skis or other personal watercraft, hovercrafts 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 swim

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.

Port Phillip Bay is the only Limited Permit Area in Victorian coastal waters.

Whale watching (aircraft-based, including helicopters)

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 are also be subject to additional conditions to help minimise the impact of these tours on whales.

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.

Apply for a marine mammal permit

To apply for a marine mammal permit for whale or seal watching, download and complete the application form: 

Submit your completed application to wildlifelicensing@delwp.vic.gov.au

Permit fees

If your application is successful, you will be sent a payment notice for your permit – do not send payment with your application.                               

Permit type 

Annual fee 2020/21

Whale watching (vessel) $385
Seal watching  $385
Whale swim $1792
Whale-watching (aircraft) $385

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.

Reviewed 26 April 2021

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