Boating with the Burrunan Awareness Campaign

The Boating with the Burrunan project is one of eight projects that has been funded to help protect wildlife of the Gippsland Lakes.

Burrunan dolphins were classified as a new species of dolphin in 2011, but are already under threat due to their small and isolated populations – they are found only in the Gippsland Lakes and Port Phillip Bay.

Growing interest in the dolphins has led to people on boats and other vessels approaching them in ways that threaten the dolphins’ welfare.

Risks and dangers faced by Burrunan dolphins in the Lakes

The Gippsland Lakes provides recreational boating and fishing and hosts many tour operators.

In recent years, the Marine Mammal Foundation (MMF) has seen boats and jetskis approaching the dolphins – which is against boating regulations, set out in the Wildlife (Marine Mammal) Regulations 2009.

The regulations provide for safe and sustainable interactions, minimise risks of direct harm and allow the dolphins to maintain their required core biological activities – feeding, mating, and resting.

When you drive a boat or jetski without thinking about the marine wildlife it poses a significant threat to the Burrrunan dolphin’s welfare. We believe awareness of, and compliance to, boating regulations can be significantly improved through this project.

This public awareness campaign will work hand-in-hand with MMF’s applied research investigating the actual <impacts of vessels> but also involving habitat mapping to identify areas of significance for the dolphins.

Litter and waste are also areas of concern for the endangered Burrunan dolphin, with single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, and fishing line, posing significant threats.

The project

The main objective is to raise awareness of boating regulations around dolphins and other marine animals, minimise threats, and reduce harassment and potential injury by providing accessible, user-friendly information about the Gippsland Lakes Burrunan dolphin.

Working with other organisations, MMF will help deliver a public awareness campaign via an

  • information booklet
  • information signs
  • public information sessions


The booklet will provide information on:

  • boating on the Gippsland Lakes.
  • regulations and approach distance of vessels to Burrunan dolphins and other marine wildlife.
  • Gunaikurnai history.
  • dolphin identification and their behaviours.
  • threats such as litter and entanglements.
  • other marine mammals found in the Gippsland region.
  • stories about individual Burrunan dolphins, to evoke a sense of ownership and responsibility to ‘do the right thing’ while enjoying the Gippsland Lakes.


Information signs will be placed at boat launching sites and high-use thoroughfares around the Gippsland Lakes. It will provide clear visual messages about boating around dolphins.

Information sessions will be delivered across the region to community, tour operators, government and local businesses.

The sessions will cover:

  • current research findings
  • information on the Gippsland Lakes Burrunan dolphin population
  • boating regulations
  • threats to the Burrunan
  • How the community can assist in the protection of their Burrunan dolphins.

More about the Burrunan dolphin

Formally discovered, described and named in 2011 by MMF’s Founding Director, Dr Kate Charlton-Robb, the Burrunan dolphin (Tursiops australis) is already listed as ‘endangered’ under Victoria’s Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act.

Recent research suggests that despite being newly discovered, the Burrunan dolphin is the most ancestral species of all three bottlenose dolphins worldwide, separating over 1 million years ago.

The number of Burrunan dolphins in the Gippsland Lakes is incredibly small, with only 63 living permanently in the Lakes.

With the Gippsland Lakes offering unique opportunities to see the dolphins in the wild, from vessels and the shore, there is a need to ensure this interest doesn’t create an increase in harassment, injury or displacement.

What can you do?

Remember you can do your bit too!

  • AMMCF is enlisting a citizen science program, encouraging sightings to be documented and reported to MMF via TrakMM page or email.
  • Be aware of the regulations and ways to report/document breaches in the regulations.
  • Ensure you are compliant to the regulations and giving the dolphins the choice to interact or not.


This project is funded by the Victorian State Government for the Gippsland Lakes.

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