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Share The Sea—Guidelines For Marine Mammal Viewing

Alistair McCrann

When watching marine mammals by boat:

  • Remain at least 100 yards from whales and at least 50 yards away from dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions. Federal law has specific distance requirements for some species.
    • Keep 100 yards away from humpback whales in Hawaiian and Alaskan waters.
    • Keep 200 yards away from killer whales in Washington State inland waters.
    • Keep 500 yards away from North Atlantic right whales anywhere in U.S. waters.
  • Limit time spent observing individuals and groups of animals to 30 minutes or less.
  • Do not chase, encircle, or leapfrog animals with any watercraft. Do not trap animals between watercraft or the shore.
  • Avoid approaching marine mammals when another watercraft is near. Multiple vessels are more likely to disturb marine mammals.
  • Avoid excessive speed or sudden changes in speed or direction near whales, dolphins, or porpoises.
  • When encountering marine mammals, slow down, operate at no-wake speed. Put your engine in neutral when whales approach to pass. Learn more about whale watching by boat
  • Avoid approaching whales, dolphins, and porpoises when calves are present.  Never put your watercraft between a mother and calf.
  • Be wary of breaching and flipper-slapping whales that might injure people or watercraft.
  • Stay clear of light green bubble patches from humpback whales. These are sub-surface bubbles before whales rise to feed at the surface.
  • Never pursue or follow marine wildlife—any vessel movement should be from the recommended distance and slightly parallel to or from the rear of the animal. If you need to move around marine wildlife, do so from behind. Never approach head-on.
  • Do not intentionally direct your watercraft or accelerate toward a marine mammal with the intent of creating a pressure wake allowing them to bow or wake-ride.
  • Slowly leave the area if marine mammals show signs of disturbance. 

This is a repost from NOAA.  More information is available here:

Credit Alistair McCrann
Humpback whales in Unalaska Bay.

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