Humpback whale breaching   Dani Rob DBCA
Humpback whale breaching. Photo - Dani Rob/DBCA

In 2016, a trial for swimming with humpback whales began in State waters of Ningaloo Marine Park and the Muiron Islands Marine Management Area.

Following the success of the trial, the Premier and Ministers for Environment and Tourism announced that the activity would transition to a licensed industry by 2021.

The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) is developing the Management Program for managing interactions with humpback whales along the Ningaloo Coast. It identifies objectives, desired outcomes and management actions for interactions with humpback whales, with a specific focus on in-water interactions.

The draft management program is available for a one-month public comment period from 13 January to 13 February 2020. To review the draft management program and have your say, visit dbca.wa.gov.au/haveyoursay.

The allocation of licences for this activity will be via a competitive Expression of Interest process which will be advertised following the completion of the management program in early 2020.

More information is available below or in the information sheet:

On 1 November 2015 the Minister for Environment announced a trial program, commencing mid-2016, that allowed specific commercial tour operators to gain a licence to conduct in-water interactions with humpback whales in Ningaloo Marine Park (State waters) and Muiron Islands Marine Management Area. This has allowed participating licensed tour operators to take guests swimming with humpback whales in a controlled environment, if the conditions are assessed as acceptable for both for the whales and the swimmers. This trial has been managed by DBCA.

Under State legislation, it is not legal for individuals to swim within 100m of a whale, and if a whale approaches, any person in the water must attempt to maintain a distance of at least 100m. However, as part of the in-water humpback whale interaction trial Marine Park, 15 existing licensed whale shark operators were offered the opportunity to participate and conduct humpback whale swim tours. These operators were selected based on their experience in delivering in-water whale shark tours and their capability to assist in the management of the program through real time monitoring and data collection via an Electronic Monitoring System (EMS) already installed on their vessels. A seasonal tourism program based on swimming with whale sharks has existed in Ningaloo Marine Park for several decades and this program is recognised as world’s best practice.

For the trial, the (then) Department of Parks and Wildlife (now DBCA) developed management and licensing protocols in consultation with stakeholders, and a training program was delivered to provide guidance to the operators and their employees. Licences were issued under the following Acts and their associated Regulations: Conservation and Land Management Act 1984 and the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950, which has now been replaced by the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. Research and monitoring have been conducted under the trial and the trial has been reviewed annually to consider the potential impacts of the activity on humpback whales as well as visitor safety.

The trial has been managed under four principles, to:

  • minimise and manage impacts of humpback whales, particularly on mothers and vulnerable calves;
  • minimise and manage risks to swimmers engaging in in-water interactions;
  • contribute to the establishment of a sustainable and viable industry; and
  • ensure informed decision-making about the activity underpinned by a research and monitoring program.

On the basis that the trial had been successful over four seasons without evidence of negative impacts from in-water interactions on humpback whales nor significant risks to public safety and a high level of satisfaction from visitors, the State Government has determined to continue with the trial in 2020 with a view to transitioning to a licensed industry with restricted licence numbers in 2021.

As the trial continues, DBCA has commenced the process of transitioning into a permanent licensed industry. That involves the following key stages.

  • Mid 2019 to early 2020: Development of the Management Program for managing interactions along the Ningaloo Coast (the management program), involving significant consultation with various stakeholders (more information below).
  • Early 2020: A competitive Expression of Interest process whereby applicants will be able to apply for a licence to operate in-water humpback whale interactions.
  • Mid 2020: Announcement of successful applicants.
  • Mid 2021: Commencement of a licensed in-water humpback whale interaction industry.

Both the in-water humpback whale interaction trial and the future licensed industry are managed by DBCA.

To ensure the ongoing protection of humpback whales in the Ningaloo region, promote their conservation at a wider level, and inform the management of the in-water humpback whale interaction industry, DBCA is developing a management program. The management program focuses on in-water interactions with humpback whales in Ningaloo Marine Park (State waters) and Muiron Islands Marine Management Area, but also addresses recreational activities, whale watching and other operations, and will provide the framework for the allocation and management of licences for in-water interactions into the future.

DBCA has drawn on experience and knowledge from operators and scientists and has coordinated with the Gnulli joint management partners through the Nyinggulu (Ningaloo) Coast Joint Management Body in the drafting of the management program. The draft program will be released as a draft for a one-month public comment period from 13 January to 13 February 2020 (more information below).

Currently, the State waters of Ningaloo Marine Park and Muiron Islands Marine Management Area is the only area where licensed in-water humpback whale interactions are permitted. The Commonwealth Government has not issued licences for swimming with humpback whales.

DBCA will release the draft management program for a one-month public comment period from 13 January to 13 February 2020, providing the public with an opportunity to comment. You can view the draft management program and have your say at dbca.wa.gov.au/haveyoursay.

To ensure your submission is as effective as possible:

  • be clear and concise
  • refer your points to the page numbers or specific sections in the program
  • say whether you agree or disagree with any or all of the management arrangements – clearly state your reasons, particularly if you disagree
  • give sources of information where possible
  • suggest alternatives for those aspects of the plan with which you disagree.

The draft management program will be reviewed in light of the submissions, according to criteria below.

The draft management program may be modified if a submission:

  1. provides additional information of direct relevance to management
  2. indicates a change in (or clarifies) government legislation or management policy
  3. proposes strategies that would better achieve management objectives, or
  4. indicates omissions, inaccuracies or a lack of clarity.

The draft management program may not be modified if a submission:

  1. clearly supports proposals in the program or makes general or neutral statements
  2. refers to issues beyond the scope of the program
  3. refers to issues that are already noted within the program or already considered during its preparation
  4. is one among several widely divergent viewpoints received on the topic but the approach in the program is still considered the best option
  5. contributes options that are not feasible (generally due to conflict with legislation or government policy), or
  6. is based on unclear or factually incorrect information.
  7. All submissions must be received by midnight on 13 February 2020.

     

     

Do you have a question that has not been answered? Feel free to get in touch with Jessica Strickland, DBCA Humpback Whale Project Officer, by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or contact:

Exmouth District
Parks and Wildlife Service
Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions
20 Nimitz Street
Exmouth WA 6707