It can be an incredible, heart-stopping experience to see whales in the wild. But as tempting as it may be to get in close to feel the blow spray or get that prize-winning photo, it’s critical we keep our distance. Marine traffic is on the rise, and when whale-watchers crowd in, we increase the chance of stressing or harming the very animals that enchant us; animals that are already vulnerable to human influences in their environment.
As the Be Whale Wise website explains “Approaching too quickly, getting too close or making too much noise can disrupt Orcas, keeping them from finding food, socializing, resting and other activities.”
To encourage responsible whale watching, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the National Marine Fisheries Service (in the U.S.), Whale Watch Operators Association Northwest, and other partners have established the following set of guidelines:
Be cautious and courteous: approach areas of known or suspected marine wildlife activity with extreme caution. Look in all directions before planning your approach or departure.
Slow down: reduce speed to less than 7 knots when within 400 metres/yards of the nearest whale. Avoid abrupt course changes.
Keep clear of the whales’ path. If whales are approaching you, cautiously move of the way.
Do not approach whales from the front or from behind. Always approach and depart whales from the side, moving in a direction parallel to the direction of the whales.
Do not approach or position your vessel closer than 100 metres/yards to any whale.
If your vessel is not in compliance with the 100 metres/yards approach guideline (#5), reduce your speed and cautiously move away from the whales.
Stay on the offshore side of the whales when they are traveling close to shore.
Limit your viewing time to a recommended maximum of 30 minutes. This will minimize the cumulative impact of many vessels and give consideration to other viewers.