Cetacean Watching Code Of Conduct

MARINElife Cetacean Watching Code of Conduct

Whales and dolphins are highly intelligent animals, sensitive to disturbance and can be hit by vessels, including their propellers. If they approach the boat or bow-ride, maintain a slow speed and course until clear. Cetaceans should never be chased or harassed in an attempt to make them bow-ride, so when watching dolphins, always let them decide what happens. There is no reason why boats and cetaceans should not be able to co-exist, if care is taken to observe the following rules: 

  • KEEP your distance. Never go closer than 100m (200m if another boat is present). If you sight cetaceans at a distance, make forward progress maintaining a steady speed, slowing down to six knots or less when you are within a kilometre of them.
  • NEVER drive head on to, or move between, scatter or separate dolphins. If unsure of their movements, simply stop and put the engine into neutral.
  • NEVER chase cetaceans, drive a boat directly towards them or encircle them; wherever possible, let them approach you. If they choose to bow-ride, maintain a steady speed and course.
  • ENSURE that no more than two vessels are within a kilometre of cetaceans at any one time and no more than one boat is within close proximity. Refrain from calling other vessels to join you.
  • ALWAYS allow cetaceans an escape route. Avoid boxing them in between vessels.
  • PLEASE spend no longer than 15 minutes near the animals
  • SPECIAL care must be taken with mothers and young so avoid close approach to cetaceans with young. You risk disrupting mother-calf bonds and expose inexperienced young to stress and possible boat strikes.
  • MAINTAIN a steady direction and slow 'no wake' speed Do not respond to them by changing course or speed in a sudden or erratic manner; slowing down or stopping suddenly can confuse and alarm cetaceans as much as sudden acceleration.
  • NEVER try to swim with cetaceans, for your safety and theirs beside the stress you can cause them. Remember, that just as in humans, diseases can be spread by close contact. Cetaceans are larger than humans and can cause unwitting injury.
  • DO NOT dispose of any rubbish, litter or contaminants at sea.
  • ALWAYS move away slowly if you notice signs of disturbance, such as repeated avoidance behaviour, erratic changes in speed and direction or lengthy periods underwater.

People regularly using vessels in areas where cetaceans are known to occur should consider fitting propeller guards to minimise the risk of injury to cetaceans.

Remember that cetaceans use sound as a daily part of their life, for locating and capturing food, locating and communicating with one another, detecting predators, and forming a picture of their underwater environment in often very dim light. Many of the sounds made by craft overlap with the frequencies used by cetaceans; particularly those caused by cavitations of the propeller blade, producing a very loud broadband, high frequency noise. This causes interference with their daily activities, sometimes excluding them from preferred feeding or nursery areas. It can also lead to undue stress, particularly when mothers are pregnant or with small young. Scientific studies have shown that cetaceans respond negatively to craft moving directly at them, increasing the time they spend underwater and often swimming rapidly away from the source.