Watch out for our whales

Date posted: 02 July 2013

As whales begin to arrive in local waters, boaties and other water users are being reminded to keep their distance, both for the animals’ sake and for their own safety.

Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources Animal Welfare Manager Dr Deb Kelly said it was natural to be excited on seeing a marine mammal nearby when on the water.

“Many of us dream of a close encounter with whales or dolphins, but we must remember that there are National Parks and Wildlife regulations on how close we can get,” Dr Kelly said.

“These rules protect all marine mammals, including whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions, and apply to all water users, including people on small vessels such as jet skis and kayaks and even swimmers and surfers.

“These are wild animals not used to humans and moving too close to them can distress or scare them or even result in an injury, especially if there are young present.

“All mammals are curious, so a whale, dolphin, seal or sea lion may well choose to approach your boat. If you are at a legal distance, you will not be breaking any laws if the animal approaches you.

“If you’re lucky, you may be treated to a wonderful experience on the animal’s own terms.”

Touching or feeding marine mammals – even something as simple as throwing a dolphin a fish – is also against National Parks and Wildlife Regulations. Just like getting too close, they can result in large fines.

Dr Kelly said people were also often concerned about seals in the shallows or on land.

“Often, you will see a seal basking in the shallows with one flipper raised,” she said.

“It may look like the animal is distressed, but they’re really just having a nap. This is known as fin surfing and it’s an important part of the way they regulate their body temperature.

“Seals and sea lions will lie on the beach for several days at a time and it is no cause for alarm. They are simply digesting their food and relaxing after days hunting at sea.

“It is also normal behaviour for mother seals to leave their pups alone for a few days while they are hunting at sea.”

Dr Kelly said it was very important that seal pups were not moved. If a mother returned to feed her pup and found it gone, she would assume it was dead.

This could result in healthy pups being orphaned. If a seal has to be hand-raised, it may not be able readapt to life in the wild.

“We understand that people want to help, but the best thing to do is leave them alone so the mother can take care of them when she returns,” she said.

 “If you see a pup that is obviously thin or has been alone for more than a couple of days, or if a seal or sea lion appears to be sick or injured, please do not try to feed, touch or move the animal yourself.

“Call the local DEWNR office so rangers or experienced staff can assess it.”

Find out more about  whale watching in our state.

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Georgia Gowing
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