Whale And Dolphin Watching Guidelines

Whale watching exerts a great fascination. Seeing whales in their natural environment is an awe-inspiring experience for most nature lovers. The sight of great whales, the playfulness of dolphins it is an incomparable experience that stays with people. Whale watching tourism developed in the beginning of the eighties of our last century, after the end of commercial whale hunting.

Whale Watching – Pro and Contras of Whale Watching

On one hand, whale observations are always an intrusion into the natural habitat of the whales; on the other hand, such programs may promote whale protection. Whale watching gives people the opportunity to see whales and dolphins in their natural environment and to learn something about their life. Anyone who has seen those mammals and their behavior in their natural ocean environment will probably be more likely to understand the need to protect them.

Coastal communities that used to make money through whaling now make living by providing whale watching tours.  This is way more sustainable in the long run for them.  Often those operations also work together with science now by collecting data on whale populations. It is also easier for scientists to get out into the field and observe whales in their natural environment.

In some regions, whale observations can be land-based. This may be best as this is not intrusive into the habitat of the whales. But most popular are guided tours by boat or ship that take visitors out to known whale watching sites.

Whale watching from a boat is always an intrusion. However, some important rules should be followed in to minimize the disturbance of the whales and to provide the animals with no unnecessary stress.

Whales and Dolphin watching guidelines

Whale and dolphin watching may cause disturbance to cetaceans

  • Stress
  • Behavior changes such as feeding, nursing, mating, migrating
  • Habitat displacement from feeding, resting, reproduction areas
  • Reduced offspring
  • Increased mortality

Changes in behavior must be recognized and addressed

  • Changes in swimming speed or direction
  • Changes in breathing or diving pattern
  • Stopping or changing activity patterns ( vocalizing, feeding, nursing, socializing)-

Code of conduct

  • Operate vessels to not disrupt the normal movement or behavior of whales and dolphins
  • Stop any interactions with cetaceans at signs of the animal becoming disturbed or alarmed
  • Allow cetaceans to determine the nature and duration of interactions

Caution Zone

The caution zone is the area within 100m – 300m from a whale and 50m – 300m from a dolphin.

The following recommendations must be considered:

  • Do not touch a cetacean
  • Do not feed a cetacean
  • Do not make any loud or sudden noises
  • Do not make sudden or repeated changes in direction or speed
  • Always observe where the animals are in relation to the vessel
  • Do not place a vessel in a position where it will drift into, the no-approach zone (see diagram)

When vessels are within the caution zone of whales or dolphins

Dolphin Caution Zone
Source Int. Fund for Animal Welfare
  • Approach cetaceans slowly and cautiously
  • Observe cetaceans at a speed not exceeding the speed of the animals
  • Leave boat engine on and in idle when watching cetaceans
  • Do not separate a group of cetaceans
  • Do not chase, encircle, block the direction of travel of cetaceans, or position yourself in the middle of a pod
  • If cetaceans approach a vessel, slow down gradually and put engines in idle
  • If cetaceans approach a vessel to bow-ride, maintain a slow and steady speed and avoid sudden changes in course
  • When departing from watching cetaceans, determine where the animals are to avoid collisions or coming too close to the animals
  • The most appropriate method for approaching a whale or a dolphin is from the side and slightly to the rear of the animal. Avoid approaches from head-on or directly from behind

Source Int. Fund for Animal Welfare