Australian Whale Sanctuary

The Australian Whale Sanctuary has been established to protect all whales and dolphins found in Australian waters.

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) all cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are protected in Australian waters:

  • the Australian Whale Sanctuary includes all Commonwealth waters from the three nautical mile state waters limit out to the boundary of the Exclusive Economic Zone (i.e. out to 200 nautical miles and further in some places)
  • within the Sanctuary it is an offence to kill, injure or interfere with a cetacean. Severe penalties apply to anyone convicted of such offences
  • all states and territories also protect whales and dolphins within their waters.

The Australian Whale Sanctuary comprises the Commonwealth marine area, beyond the coastal waters of each state and the Northern Territory. It includes all of Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The Australian EEZ generally extends to 200 nautical miles (approximately 370 kilometres) from the coast, but extends further in some areas to cover offshore territorial waters and islands. The Australian EEZ includes the waters around Australia's external territories, such as Christmas, Cocos (Keeling), Norfolk, Heard and Macdonald islands.

Within the Sanctuary it is an offence to kill, injure or interfere with a cetacean. Severe penalties apply to anyone convicted of such offences.

State and territory waters

In state/territory waters (within 3 nautical miles of the coastline); it is the responsibility of the state and territory governments to protect whales and dolphins.

All coastal states and territories provide similar protection for whales and dolphins to that provided by the Australian Government in the Australian Whale Sanctuary.

A National Network of Whale and Dolphin Sanctuaries

The Government has committed to establishing a national network of whale and dolphin sanctuaries, working with State Governments in the first instance to link the efforts of governments and local communities to provide further protection for our whales and dolphins.

Work is already underway to identify suitable areas in Commonwealth waters for inclusion in the Network and states have been asked, as a first step, to identify areas within their existing marine reserve estate for inclusion.

The Australian Government and State and Territory Governments are working together to develop an implementation strategy for the initiative.

Research permits

Activities in the Australian Whale Sanctuary that may impact on whales, dolphins and porpoises may require a permit.

Research permits may only be issued by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts after appropriate consideration of all the impacts of the activity have been taken into account.

Permits cannot be issued to kill a whale, dolphin or porpoise or to take one for live display.

Environment assessments and approvals

In all Australian waters, including state and territory waters, the EPBC Act regulates actions that will have, or are likely to have, a significant impact on all listed threatened and migratory species.

Proposed actions that may have a significant impact on any of these species should be referred to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, who will decide whether the action requires environmental assessment.