Guidelines for Observing Marine Mammals in alaska

Developed by The Kenai Fjords Tour Vessel Operators Association
assisted by the North Gulf Oceanic Society
17 May 2000
(corrected 20 September 2001, modified at 17 May 2004 meeting)

General Guidelines for all Marine Mammals

1. View marine mammals from no less than 100 yards distance.
2. Approach and depart from marine mammals slowly. (5 knots or less when within 500 yards)
3. Determine behavioral state from a distance greater than 100 yards (preferably at 300 yards or more) before approaching marine mammals for viewing. Be responsive to the specific situation.
4. Terminate viewing if behavioral changes are seen. (eg avoidance of boat, increased dive times).
5. Keep noise levels down around marine mammals. Do not use horns or whistles. Do not shout or race motors. Shut down engines when possible.
6. Communicate with other ship's captains to coordinate timing and behavior of vessels around marine mammals. Allow no more than 15 minutes observation time for each vessel when there are multiple vessel and no more than 20 minutes when alone.
7. When more than one vessel is watching the whales, the distance each boat is from the whales should be increased beyond 100 yards
8. All vessels observing marine mammals should remain near each other on the same side of the animal(s). Do not box in animals against shorelines or corral animals between boats. Avoid rapid changes in speed or direction. Avoid shifting gears unnecessarily.

Additional Viewing Guidelines for Pinnipeds and Sea Otters

1. Observe pinnipeds or sea otters when in rafts or hauled out one vessel at a time.
2. Conduct narration before and after (not during) observation.
3. Do not use camera flashes.
4. Be mindful that hauled out pinnipeds react to human smells. Attempt to keep vessel down-wind of haul-outs, if possible.
5. Minimize time around mothers and pups.

Additional Viewing Guidelines for Cetaceans

1. Minimize contact and interference with resting whales.
2. Minimize contact with transient killer whales. Avoid approaching the depleted AT1 transients if at all possible. If there are other whales available for watching avoid transients.
3. Exercise caution around cow and calf pairs.
4. Approach killer whales from the side, not from the front or back.
5. Do not "leap-frog" when viewing whales. Leap-frogging consists of repeatedly running ahead of whales and stopping in their path. During an encounter, each vessel may once move ahead of a group of whales several hundred yards (giving whales a wide berth and shut down engines, allowing whales to determine the closeness of approach.
6. Avoid re-viewing the same group of whales more than once in a trip. Avoid visits to two different groups of killer whales.
7. Do not approach killer whales, either by sea or on the beach, when they are rubbing.

Guidelines from the National Marine Fisheries Service


Guidelines and regulations presented here are designed to prevent wildlife viewers from violating federal law and to reduce the potential for wildlife viewing to inadvertently harm whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions. This information does not replace federal law.

Federal law prohibits pursuit of marine mammals.
Remain at least 100 yards from marine mammals.
Time spent observing individual(s) should be limited to 30 minutes.
Whales should not be encircled or trapped between boats, or boats and shore.
If approached by a whale, put the engine in neutral and allow the whale to pass.


Offering food, discarding fish or fish waste, or any other food item is prohibited.
Do not touch or swim with the animals. They can behave unpredictably and may also transmit disease.


Whales may surface in unpredictable locations.
Breaching and flipper-slapping whales may endanger people or vessels.
Feeding humpback whales often emit sub-surface bubbles before rising to feed at the surface. Stay clear of these light green bubble patches.
Noise may help whales know your location and avoid whale and vessel collisions. For example, if your engine is not running, occasionally tap the side of the boat with a hard object.

If you need to move around a whale, do it from behind the whale.
Vessels that wish to position themselves to allow whales to pass the vessel should do so in a manner that stays fully clear of whale's path.

Marine mammals are more likely to be disturbed when more then one boat is near them.
Avoid approaching marine mammals when another vessel is near.
Marine mammals should not be encircled or trapped between boats, or boats and shore.
Always leave marine mammals an escape route.
When several vessels are in an area, communication between vessel operators may reduce the potential for disturbance.

Limit your time with any individual or group of marine mammals to 30 minutes.
Your vessel may not be the only vessel in the day that approaches the same animal(s). Please be aware that cumulative impact may occur.

Vessels traveling in a predictable manner appear to be less disturbing to animals.
Pursuit of marine mammals is prohibited by law.
Never attempt to herd, chase, or separate groups of marine mammals or females from their young.
Avoid excessive speed or sudden changes in speed or direction in the vicinity of whales.
The departure from a viewing area has as much potential to disturb animals as the approach.

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