Whale SENSE - the smart way to whale watch
Look for the Whale SENSE logo to support program participants. (Credit: NOAA)
A pair of humpbacks feeding (Courtesy: WDCS)
NOAA Whale Watch Guidelines
Finback whale breathing (Courtesy WDCS)
Humpback whale doing a "spy hop" to take a look around (Courtesy WDCS)
Minke whale at the surface (Courtesy: WDCS)
The Northeastern United States is one of the most impressive whale watching destinations in the world, drawing over a million whale watchers each year.
Worldwide, whale watching is valued as a multi-billion dollar industry, supporting local communities, businesses, and conservation efforts.
Viewing some of the largest creatures on Earth feeding, socializing, and performing acrobatic feats can be an exhilarating experience. It can also promote respect for the ocean and its inhabitants, if conducted responsibly.
Large whales, and other marine mammals, are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Many of the popularly viewed whale species are also protected by the Endangered Species Act. These Acts help protect whales from harm, including having their natural behaviors interrupted by human actions.
Admiring marine mammals from a distance is the safest and most responsible way people can view them in their natural habitats.
Minimizing disturbance to whales
NOAA’s whale watching guidelines in the Northeast recommend that all vessels:
- Coordinate viewing times with other vessels
- Slow their speeds as they approach
- Approach whales from the side or behind and parallel the animal’s course, speed and direction
- Never approach within 100 feet of whales.
- Federal regulations require vessels stay at least 500 yards (1,500 feet) away from the North Atlantic right whale
- Limit the time spent with individual whales
In 2009, to promote responsible viewing among commercial whale watching companies, NOAA Fisheries Northeast Regional Office teamed up with Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) to create a unique program called Whale SENSE.
Whale SENSE program
This voluntary program trains whale watching captains and naturalists on the laws, guidelines, and species behaviors they need to know in order to provide responsible whale watching tours. It also provides a forum for professional discussion among whale watch companies.
Companies participating in Whale SENSE are held to high standards of operation and education. They must:
- Follow NOAA’s whale watching guidelines
- Communicate whale protection laws and guidelines to their passengers
- Report sightings of injured or distressed whales
- Pass an annual evaluation of their practices
- Adhere to responsible advertisement criteria
- Serve as an example of a responsible whale watching operation
Benefits of participation
Successful participants are listed on the Whale SENSE website and are allowed to use the current year Whale SENSE logo on their advertisements.
Whale SENSE began in Massachusetts in 2009, and has since expanded across the region, including companies from
- Bar Harbor, ME
- Cape May, NJ
- Virginia Beach, VA
An additional benefit of the Whale SENSE program is that participants create a stewardship project that promotes NOAA’s Ocean Literacy Principles and the health and well-being of the ocean. These projects provide good information to passengers that help keep them engaged in conservation efforts after their tour is over.
Examples of current projects include:
- Pioneering the collection of whale sightings data in areas where little data exist, such as in the Mid-Atlantic
- Contributing to existing whale catalogues and life history knowledge by partnering with research organizations
- Creating recycling programs and greening initiatives that passengers can mimic at home
Several participating companies engage in more than one stewardship project, though only one project is required for Whale SENSE participation.
We encourage you to visit www.whalesense.org for more information on responsible viewing practices and a list of Whale SENSE participants near you!