NMFS Northeast Region

News

Feds Revise Guidelines

for Whale Watching

New guidelines will help commercial and recreational boaters avoid harassing or injuring whales

Gloucester, Mass. -- Boaters will have to cut back on the throttle within two miles of sighted whales under revised federal guidelines announced today by NOAA Fisheries and the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The voluntary guidelines are for commercial and recreational boaters from Maine to Virginia and are intended to protect whales from harassment or injury.

NMFS first developed whale watching guidelines in 1985. The revised guidelines announced today include recommended limits on vessel speed. They also call for fewer vessels in close proximity to whales and the posting of lookouts when vessels are entering or departing known whale areas.

"It is already illegal to harass or otherwise harm whales under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act," Jon Rittgers, the acting regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries in the Northeast, said.

"The revised guidelines provide reasonable operational procedures that give an increased margin of safety for the whales," Rittgers said. "They should help mariners stay out of situations that could result in harassment of whales and minimize the chances of an inadvertent collision with a whale that would place the boater in violation of federal law."

For Immediate

Release

May 13, 1999

Contact:

George Liles

PH: (508) 495-2378

FAX: 508 495-2258

NR99-08

NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service * One Blackburn Drive * Gloucester, MA * 01930

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"The new guidelines provide a new measure of protection for the whales in this region," agreed Brian MacDonald of the New England Aquarium. "If private and commercial vessels follow these guidelines, people will be able to view whales while significantly reducing the risk of putting them in danger," said MacDonald, director of the Northeast Whale Watching Association and a member of the advisory group that helped NMFS revise the old guidelines.

The guidelines are designed to protect all large whales that are the focus of whale watching activity in coastal waters from Maine to North Carolina. Existing federal regulations provide additional protection for the North Atlantic right whale it is illegal for a vessel to approach within 500 yards of one of these highly endangered animals.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary will continue its program to monitor the effectiveness of the whale protection guidelines. The Auxiliary deploys trained observers aboard commercial whale watching vessels operated by companies that have volunteered to participate in the monitoring program. The Auxiliary also uses its own boats and aircraft to monitor the whale watching activities of vessel operators on Stellwagen Bank and in other New England waters.

The results of the monitoring program may help NOAA Fisheries and the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary determine whether the voluntary guidelines are sufficient or whether regulations are needed to prevent harassment or injury of whales.

The revised guidelines are being sent to all commercial whale watching operators and will made available to recreational boaters. They can be obtained from NOAA Fisheries (978 781-9328), Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (781 545-8026) and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

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NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service * One Blackburn Drive * Gloucester, MA * 01930

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