NOAA Reminds Boaters to Watch Out for Whales

WASHINGTON, D.C. – NOAA Fisheries is reminding boaters to keep a close eye out for feeding and traveling whales, along with following safe viewing guidelines.

During the summer whales are feeding on small schooling fish and zooplankton in coastal areas around New England.

Vessels should stay at least 100 feet away from humpback, fin, sei and minke whales and 500 feet away from critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

“Increased whale activity in areas off Northern New England are coinciding with summer boat traffic. We want to remind boaters of ways to prevent accidental interactions with whales, which can be fatal to the whales and cause damage to boats,” says Jeff Ray, the deputy special agent in charge for NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement.

New England waters are known as summer feeding grounds for humpback whales.

The bubble clouds that humpbacks use to corral their prey, and then lunge through the center to swallow the small fish, is something boaters should try to avoid.

Boaters in these bubble patches are at risk of colliding with the whales as they rapidly approach the surface.

Right whales glide across the surface of the water when feeding and are more difficult to see. Vessels moving at high speeds are at risk of colliding with the whales.

Boaters should be on the lookout for the V-shaped blow that can distinguish the critically endangered whales from other species.

“In addition to keeping a sharp lookout, we also ask that should the whales approach your boat, you put your boat in neutral until they have passed safely,” says NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Response Coordinator Mendy Garron. “Also, please report any sightings. Locating the whales will help us keep them safe.”

Boats colliding with whales can seriously injure the marine mammals or kill them, along with throwing boaters from vessels and causing significant damage.

The close proximity of boats can cause whales to stop feeding as well.

All whales in U.S. waters are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal for people to harm, injure, kill, chase, or harass whales or any other marine mammal. Penalties for violations of the act are fines up to $20,000 and up to a year in prison.

To report sightings call the NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Stranding and Entanglement Hotline at 866-755-6622.

For more information on safe boating near whales click here.

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