Interacting with Marine Mammals at Sea

Project Jonah Teachers Resources Interacting With Marine Mammals at Sea

With more than 15,000 kilometres of coastline in New Zealand, the vast majority of New Zealanders live near water or close to a beach.

Many New Zealanders own boats and on any one given day there may be thousands of recreational vessels on our waters. For those that are lucky, they will encounter marine mammals at sea.

Whilst whale and dolphin watching is growing in interest, so too are threats from boat strike, noise pollution, harassment, displacement and separation of mothers and their young.

The Marine Mammal Protection Regulations 1992, aims to minimise these threats and gives rules and guidelines to boat users on how they should interact with marine mammals at sea. A summary of these rules are as follows:

  • Do not disturb, harass or make loud noises near marine mammals.
  • Contact should be ceased should marine mammals show any signs of becoming disturbed or alarmed.
  • Do not feed or throw any rubbish near marine mammals.
  • Avoid sudden or repeated changes in speed or direction of any vessel or aircraft near a marine mammal.
  • There should be no more than three vessels and/or aircraft within 300 metres of any marine mammal.

At Sea
  • Ensure that you travel no faster than idle or ‘no wake’ speed within 300 metres of any marine mammal.
  • Approach whales and dolphins from behind and to the side.
  • Do not circle them, obstruct their path or cut through any group.
  • Keep at least 50 metres from whales (or 200 metres from any large whale mother and calf or calves).
  • Swimming with whales is not permitted.
  • You may swim with seals and dolphins but not with dolphin pods with very young calves.
  • Avoid approaching closer than 20 metres to seals and sea lions hauled out on shore.
  • Idle slowly away. Speed may be gradually increased to out-distance dolphins and should not exceed 10 knots within 300 metres of any dolphin.
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