Whale and dolphin research permits

Fiona and Davey Harvey

When is a permit required?

In the Australian Whale Sanctuary (from three nautical miles) it is a requirement to obtain a permit under the Environment Protection and Biodiveristy Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) to; take, keep, move, interfere with (harass, chase, herd, tag, mark or brand) a cetacean and to possess or treat (divide or cut up, or extract any product from, the cetacean) a cetacean. Additionally, for Australian residents, it is also a requirement to obtain a permit to carry out such activities in waters beyond the Sanctuary, that is, in international or foreign waters.

At the moment, cetacean permits are issued for research actions that will contribute significantly to the conservation of cetaceans. (A fee of $25 applies)

The permit assessment process

Cetacean permit notices

The Minister will take into account written comments when assessing applications and determining permit conditions.

Great Barrier Reef permits

If you wish to carry out activities within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, you will need to apply to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for a permit.

How to apply for a research permit

To allow for the proper assessment of your research application please allow at least six weeks for processing.


You will need to complete two forms:

1. Permit application form - asks for general information about your application.

Application form for all Cetaceans (DOC - 234.5 KB)

2. Supplementary form - asks for details specific to your action.

Supplementary Form A – Whales and Dolphins (DOC - 136 KB)

Complete both forms and post or fax them to:

Migratory Species Section
Department of the Environment
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601
Fax: 02 6274 1771
Email: EPBC.permits@environment.gov.au

PLEASE NOTE: If your application involves the export or import of a cetacean part, you may also need to apply for a CITES permit under Part 13A of the EPBC Act.


There are penalties of up to $110,000 and/or up to two years' imprisonment for illegally killing, injuring, taking, trading, keeping, moving, interfering with or treating a cetacean in the Australian Whale Sanctuary.

If a person has unintentionally killed or taken a cetacean (for example, struck by a boat or caught in a net) then it is not an offence, but the person must report the act to the Department of the Environment within seven days. This reporting will provide valuable information for the management of species, alerting the Department to the extent of, and any trends in, inadvertent impacts on these species in Commonwealth areas. Failure to report an act is an offence that carries a fine of up to $11,000.

Interactions with cetaceans that do not have approval, must be reported

If you have undertaken an activity where you affected or interacted with a cetacean, you may need to notify the Minister for the Environment. Failure to notify may result in a conviction or fine.

Report an interaction to the Minister

Permits to export, re-export or import

CITES permits and certificates

In addition to the above activities, the export, re-export and import of cetaceans and cetacean specimens is subject to regulation under Part 13A of the EPBC Act, which incorporates Australia's obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Australia has a stricter domestic measure in place with respect to international trade in cetacean specimens.

All species of whales, porpoises and dolphins are treated as if they are in Appendix I of CITES.