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The establishment of approach distances between wildlife and tourists is a useful tool for resource managers involved with wildlife tourism. Such guidelines are especially beneficial at locations with high tourism activity and potentially dangerous wildlife, but need to be based on research to ensure an evidence-based balance between tourist experience and wildlife protection. At Seal Bay Conservation Park (SBCP), large numbers (>100,000 annually) of tourists regularly interact with a breeding colony of Australian sea lions Neophoca cinerea, which has been listed as threatened under the EPBC Act. To determine guidelines for approach distances we experimentally subjected individuals and groups of sea lions to approaches by 1 to 10 pedestrians to measure the distance at which the animals reacted and the type of behaviour displayed during that reaction. These trials were carried out on both the beach where tourists are allowed access with guides, as well as in areas that are usually undisturbed by human activity. At the current recommended minimum approach distance of 6 m, 28% of sea lions on the tourist beach and 51% of sea lions in other areas exhibited a change in behaviour and some displayed aggressive behaviour. Based on these results, we recommend that SBCP managers increase the approach distance to 10 m.

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