Rules you must follow when flying your drone near a marine mammal.

Flying drones in the vicinity of marine mammals (such as whales, dolphins, and seals) can be highly disturbing. Even though an animal might not appear to be disturbed, it could be quite stressed. 

It is an offence to harass or disturb marine mammals. See information about flying recreational and commercial drones near marine mammals below. The Marine Mammals Protection Regulations 1992 and Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 set out the law for interacting with marine mammals.

Note if you wish to land or fly a drone on public conservation land for any reason you must have authorisation from DOC. See commercial drone use or recreational drone use for more information.

Guidance for flying drones near marine mammals

To avoid disturbing or harassing marine mammals.

You must:

  • fly no closer than 150 m horizontally from a point directly above any marine mammal
  • not disturb or harass any marine mammal with your drone; e.g. don’t chase, herd or scatter them
  • not make any sudden or repeated change in speed or direction
  • not make any loud or disturbing noises near marine mammals
  • abandon contact at the first sign of any marine mammal being disturbed.

You should:

  • take off at least 100 m from any marine mammal on the shore or the land
  • not fly within 300 m of any marine mammal if there are already three drones, other aircraft, or boats within 300 m of that marine mammal
  • keep at least 50 m from any other drone

Getting closer

If you want to fly your drone closer than 150 m horizontally from a marine mammal, whether commercially or recreationally, you must have a permit from DOC.

See interacting with marine mammals for information about the marine mammal permit application process. 


If you have any questions or concerns about flying your drone near marine mammals contact the Christchurch Permissions Team.  

If you see or experience inappropriate drone use report it to your local DOC office or call our emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

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