Female orca
Image: Nathan Pettigrew | ©


Recent sightings of a pod of orca and a large sperm whale around Napier have prompted DOC to remind people not to use drones near these animals.

Date:  20 May 2024

Orca are the second-most widely distributed mammal on earth (after humans), and can be found throughout New Zealand's coastline. Our waters are home to an estimated 150–200 individuals, which travel long distances throughout the country’s coastal waters, and are considered nationally critical.

One of the greatest threats to orca/whales/tohora is disturbance by traffic like boats and aircraft. While far smaller, flying drones in the vicinity of marine mammals (such as whales, dolphins, and seals) is also an offence under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978, as it can be highly disturbing to the animals.

Russell Hughes, Ranger Marine Reserves, says these issues are usually down to a misunderstanding of how to interact with these creatures.

“We don’t think anyone is acting maliciously, so we want to help people understand how to enjoy orca without accidentally harming them,” says Russell.

“Operators and individuals alike require a permit to deviate from these specific rules due to the respect and sensitivity of these magnificent creatures.”

“These rules are in place to help us all protect a truly amazing marine biodiversity that we are privileged to have in the waters of Aotearoa. It is amazing to see them, we just need to give them the respect they deserve.”

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; eg 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.

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.

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).


For media enquiries contact:

Email: media@doc.govt.nz

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