MARINE VISITATION GUIDELINES- Whale and Dolphin Watching

See Dolphins and Whales for information about dolphins and whales in Hawai 'i.

 Marine mammals have a limited energy budget that must be spent on important activities such as breeding and social interaction. When humans interact with these creatures they exhaust a portion of that energy budget during the interaction. How much human interaction absorbs too much of their needed energy is not known. Therefore caution and respect for their needs should dictate every human interaction.

“Harassment” may be caused through acts of pursuit, torment or annoyance that may injure or disrupt the behaviors patterns of wild marine mammals. It includes approaching, interacting or attempting to interact with, swimming or touching the animal.

All whales, seals and dolphins are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits the ‘taking’ of marine mammals. The term ‘take’ means to harass, capture, kill, or feed, or any attempt of these activities. Humpback whales, Sperm whales, monk seals and turtles are also protected by the Endangered Species Act 1973 and Hawai'i state law. The National Marine Sanctuaries Act also protects the humpback whales and their habitat.

Never feed marine mammals. It can alter their natural behavior and cause them to become sick or die from ingesting food unnatural to them. It may also habituate them to vessels and humans, putting them at risk of injury. Hand feeding a dolphin can cause it to loose it’s ability to hunt naturally and dolphins can inflict serious wounds to people feeding them.

Never throw anything in the sea (trash, food, liquids, fish hooks/line) as it can be ingested or entangled and injure or kill marine animals.

Stay at least 100 yards from whales and 50 yards from other marine animals - it’s the law!

If you notice a change in behavior when you approach a marine mammal, such as erratic swimming, a female attempting to shield a calf or escape tactics such as prolonged diving, please move away as they may be feeling harassed.

When operating a boat near whales:

*Look out for whales that may be diving- if you see any sign of a whale, post a look-out as they can dive for up to 20 minutes. Proceed carefully.
*Do not change a whale’s path by cutting it off and don’t risk striking a whale.
*Don’t chase whales- it may cause them to move away.
*Do not approach a whale head-on. If you find yourself in the direct path of a whale, move out of the way or put the engine in neutral and allow it to pass.
*Do not surround a whale if there is more than one vessel in the water- make sure you communicate with the other vessels.
*Do not place your vessel between a mother and calf.
*Do not try and overtake a whale.
*Never operate faster than the slowest whale.
*Do not cross the path of a group moving through the water. Always drive at no-wake speed and run parallel and a good distance away from the group. If dolphins bow-ride maintain speed and do not make any sudden changes in speed or course. Reduce speed gradually.

Limit encounters with whales and dolphins to around 30 minutes to reduce your impact upon them.

Pollution, habitat destruction, global warming, and overfishing all effect these animals negatively. Reducing your part in these global problems will help all the ocean’s inhabitants.

Dolphins are often found in the shallow waters because they are in a period of rest similar to us sleeping. Their curiosity to interact with you can keep them from getting needed rest.

Report any marine mammal strandings/collisions to the Marine mammal Hotline 1-888-256-9840 and Humpback whale violations to NOAA Fisheries Enforcement 1-800-853-1964.

Photographs: Robert Shallenberger and Andrew Walsh.



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