Guidelines for whale watching from boat
All whale species are referred to as ‘whale’ in these guidelines. By whale, we mean both groups of whales, individual whales and dolphins.
All vessels (motorboats, fishing boats, yachts, sailing boats, kayaks and canoes) are covered by these guidelines. Vessels like jet skis, parasailers, and remote controlled boats should not be used for whale watching and should have a distance of 1000 metres from the whale.
Allowing whales to interact with people
The guidelines presented here refer to situations where people actively approach whales. The guidelines give distance recommendations for not disturbing the whales. In some cases, the whales get curious and approach the boats on their own initiative. These situations are not in conflict with the guidelines. To make the close encounters a success, it is important to keep a steady course with a low speed, or even let the motor stay in neutral gear.
Signs of disturbance in whales
If a whale shows signs of disturbance, it is to be left undisturbed. Also inform other whale watching operators in the area of the situation.
Signs of disturbance in whales:
- Attempting to leave the area or attempting to get away from the boat, diving whenever there is a boat approaching
- Sudden or regular changes in swimming speed and/or direction
- Forming of dense groups and swimming away from the boat
- Sudden or shallow dives to get away from the boat
- Aggressive behaviour, for example the whale hitting the water with its tale, fins etc.
- Increased breathing frequency
- Increased length of dives
- Sudden changes of behaviour (for example, changes in behaviour from socialising to displacement)
- Whales that are resting usually change the course away from the boats and should be left alone
- These guidelines apply to both the public, commercial operators and documentarists (photographers, tv-teams, scientists)
- Both commercial and private whale watching operators must have an understanding of the whales’ behaviour and respect these guidelines. By understanding the whales’ behaviour, it helps the operators to follow the guidelines and inform their passengers
- Commercial whale watching companies are encouraged to include educational programmes in their tours, present safety routines and the guidelines for their guests, highlight vulnerabilities in the marine environment and encourage them to show respect
- In the beginning of every season, all operators shall agree on a shared communication channel
- Commercial whale watching operators are encouraged to use max capacity on their boats and use the largest of their boats, with the aim of reducing the total amount of boats that are observing the whales simultaneously
- Avoid unnecessary use of motor, gear shifting and manoeuvrings, sudden or repeated changes in course and speed near the whale
- The whale shall always be in control of the encounter and how long it will last
- There should be periods during the day where the whales are not exposed to disruptive activities
- If the whale shows signs of stress, evasive behaviour or seems to be disturbed - even if guidelines are followed – leave the area and the whale
- One has to show great respect when approaching females with calves or whales that are resting, eating and/or socialising. In certain cases, the whale should be left alone. One should avoid that individuals divide from a group, a mother being separated from her calves or that a group gets dispersed
- Give fishing and research vessels space to work. The whale watching operators should also encourage guests to share their pictures and observations with scientists
- Do not throw garbage, food, sewage and other polluting materials in the sea close to the whales
- In fjords, close to the shore and with several whale watching operators in the area, it is important to show extra consideration and caution towards the whales and other operators
Searching for whales in the search area, 1000 m, 15 knots
- Driving in areas with whales must be done at low speed and with great caution. If one is unsure whether there is whale in the area, one should act as if there is
- Reduce the speed to 15 knots in areas there may be whales
- In addition to the captain, there can be one extra whale observer/guide on board. Keep a good look out in all directions
- Observe the whales’ behaviour and direction before beginning to approach the whales
Approaching whales in the waiting zone, 1000 – 100 m, reduce the speed to 5 knots
- The first boat has the responsibility to coordinate the situation. It is very important to have clear communication between all operators in the area. Be considerate and show care for others, so that everyone can experience the whales without disturbance
- One should always approach the whale from behind, a little to the side, with great care and at maximum 5 knots speed. It is important to reduce the speed gradually and avoid reversing or making unnecessary noise with the propellers
- Evaluate the whales’ behaviour, direction and speed before you approach
- Manoeuvre the boat parallel with the whales’ course
- Avoid approaching the whale directly from behind, then the whale may feel that is being chased. An exception here is for the sperm whale
- Do not block the whales’ route; one should make sure the whale always has an escape route Show consideration to other boats, fishing equipment and the shoreline to avoid blocking the whale
Watching whales in the observation zone, 50-100 m, < 5 knots
- Keep a low speed near the whale, the speed should be lower than 5 knots when one is closer than 100 metres. Keep the sound level low and avoid sudden changes in speed and course
- Do not go closer than 50 metres and move parallel with the whales in their speed (meaning: move in the same direction as the whales without changing course), put the engine in neutral
- Limit the observation time to 10 minutes for the same whale/group of whales if there are multiple boats in the area, and give room for other boats in the waiting zone
- If the boat is alone, keep the boat still as long as possible with the engine running. Limit the observation time to approximately 30 minutes for the same whale or group of whales
- It should be sought to have no more than 2 boats (no matter the size) in connection to the same whale or group of whales at all times. Other boats have to keep in the waiting zone
- Boats are encouraged to cooperate if there are multiple boats in the area. For example, by agreeing upon observation time per boat. Boats that are waiting for their turn should stay at least 100 metres away from the whale
Leaving the area
Boats are to follow the same procedures as mentioned above when leaving the whales.
Touching and feeding whales
- Under no circumstances should anyone try to attract the whales or touch them. For example, by feeding, making noise or using light effects.