Whale watching is one of the most exciting ways to spend time on the water. Kendall Barbery, who manages our Green Infrastructure Program, shares tips to help make sure both you and the whales stay safe.
What to look out for:
Signs of nearby humpback whales include spouts, light foamy patches of bubbling water, and the fins and flukes of the whales themselves.
What to avoid:
• Humpback whales sometimes feed by blowing bubbles beneath a school of fish, called bubble netting, which forces the fish to the surface and makes it easier for the humpback to lunge with their mouths open wide and swallow the school whole. Avoid the bubbling water like you would avoid a rocky shoal! A run-in with a feeding humpback whale is bad for all mammals (and boats) involved.
• Never approach a whale head-on, and don’t obstruct its path. If a whale is approaching your boat, move out of its way.
• Keep your speed below 7 knots if you are within ½ mile of a whale. When boats get too close and crowd a whale, it impacts their behavior and their ability to eat their breakfast, lunch and dinner.
• Maintain your distance! Though regulations in the northeast allow boaters to view humpback whales within 100 feet, it’s best for the whale if recreational boaters maintain a distance of at least 100 yards. If you are within 100 yards of a whale, put your vessel in neutral and limit your viewing time to 15 minutes. Trust us, that spout isn’t water – it’s mucus and whale breath being released through the humpback’s nostrils, and it carries a stench far worse than morning breath.
• If other boats are already in this close-viewing zone, stand down and wait your turn. Use your VHF radio (channel 9, 13, or 16) to coordinate your viewing efforts with other boats.
• Share these guidelines with your boating friends!
• Stop, be still, listen, and enjoy.
For more information on safe whale viewing, visit The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Whale Watching Guidelines.