As the whale migration season is upon us with thousands of boats taking to the waters to catch a glimpse of these majestic mammals in their natural environment, it is crucial that we all adhere to some basic guidelines to help keep dolphins, whales and their calves safe.
It is crucial to give these marine mammals space and know how to safely approach whales and dolphins along the coast. This post will go into more detail on how close you can go to the animals and guidelines for when it is best to not approach them, letting you witness their natural behavior from a safe distance.
Even though most of us would consider these general guidelines as common sense, it is always good to get a reminder of the most basic guidelines when approaching whales and dolphins at sea,
- Never restrict the path of a marine mammal or cause it to change direction
- Never drive a boat into a pod or herd of dolphins or whales causing them to divide into smaller groups
- Never deposit rubbish near a marine mammal for obvious reasons
- Do not make any sudden noises or attempt to touch or feed the mammals
The guidelines for approach distances have been applied to reduce the risk of disturbing whales and dolphins. The guidelines apply to boats, jet skis, hovercrafts and people in the water. The approach distances have been divided into Caution Zones and No Approach Zones.
The caution zone for whales extends from within 100 metres to 300 metres of the marine mammals. For dolphins, the caution zone extends from 50 metres to 150 metres.
In a caution zone, the boat cannot travel at speeds exceeding 6 knots and must not create a wake. There must not be more than 3 boats within a caution zone. You are also required to approach the mammals from either side, and never directly in front or behind them.
No Approach Zones
As indicated by the naming, you should not voluntarily enter a no approach zone. The no approach zone also extends to the length of the caution zone in front of and behind the mammals.
For whales the no approach zone is 100 metres, with a corresponding 50 metres zone for dolphins.
If a whale approaches your boat to be within the no approach zone, the boat must either turn its engines off, disengage the gears or withdraw from the no approach zone at speeds less than 6 knots without creating a wake.
If a dolphin enters the no approach zone, a moving boat can continue as long as any change to speed or direction is made gradually in a way that is unlikely to disturb the dolphin, especially if it is bow riding. The boat may even slow down or stop to watch the dolphins as long as it does not disturb them.
For jet skis and hovercrafts, the no approach zone extends to 300 metres.