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Responsible Marine Wildlife Viewing

killer whale swimming near a whale-watching boat
Killer Whale
(Orcinus orca)
Photo: Whale Museum
for your safety and their protection.

Never touch, swim with, feed,
or harm in the wild.


NOAA Fisheries believes that watching marine animals in their natural habitat can be a positive way to promote conservation and respect for the animals and the marine environment. However, irresponsible human behavior can disturb animals, destroy important habitats, and even result in injury to animals and people. To promote responsible and sustainable marine animal viewing, NOAA Fisheries has developed numerous educational programs, viewing guidelines and regulations, and enforcement actions.

Ocean Etiquette

Recognizing the importance of outreach partnerships, NOAA Fisheries and NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries have developed the Ocean Etiquette program to more effectively promote ocean stewardship. Anyone who visits, works, or plays in the marine environment and those who visit remotely (i.e. the Internet and aquariums) have an opportunity to make a difference in protecting the ocean. Ocean Etiquette is designed to provide the public with guidance on minimizing impacts to marine life and habitats. By making these direct connections between human behavior and environmental protection, the Ocean Etiquette program empowers visitors with specific knowledge of how to protect marine wildlife and habitats.

NOAA Fisheries Policy on Human Interactions With Wild Marine Mammals

The MMPA does not provide for a permit or other authorization to view or interact with wild marine mammals, except for specific listed purposes such as scientific research. Therefore, interacting with wild marine mammals should not be attempted and viewing marine mammals must be conducted in a manner that does not harass the animals. NOAA Fisheries does not support, condone, approve, or authorize activities that involve closely approaching, interacting, or attempting to interact with whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, or sea lions in the wild. This includes attempting to swim with, pet, touch, or elicit a reaction from the animals.

Viewing Guidelines

The guidelines below provide valuable tips on how to responsibly view marine animals in the wild. Click on the map below for guidelines specific to that region, or view our general guidelines:

Regional Viewing Guidelines

US map, color-coded by region northeast southeast alaska pacific islands westcoast



Pacific Islands

West Coast




killer whales near a fishing boat

Killer whales
(Orcinus orca)
Photo: Mandy Merklein and P. Michael Payne, NOAA

Updated: August 25, 2016