Return to top
Marine Science Center

Basics about Whale Watching

Whale Watching does not only mean the viewing of whales, whale watching also includes the viewing of dolphins and porpoises.  MARC does not provide whale watching excursions, but the following information is useful for any person interested in participating in a whale-watch excursion.

Affected Cetacean Species

  • Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaengliae)
  • Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
  • Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
  • Northern Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis)
  • Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas)
  • Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis)
  • Atlantic White-sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus)
  • Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)

Rules of Conduct

  • Do not feed the animals
  • If you feed the dolphins and whales they may start to rely on humans for food and will not be able to provide food for themselves.
  • Do not touch the animals
  • Remember that the dolphins and whales are wild animals and that can and will bite you.
  • All marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and it is illegal for you to be within 300 feet of the animal. 
  • If the animal comes to you, remember it is a wild animal and do not make any sudden movements or loud noises.
  • Allow cetaceans to control the nature and duration of interactions
  • You can help the captain of the boat by telling the captain or the crew where the whales or dolphins are. 
  • Do not swim with the whales or dolphins
  • Put trash in proper waste reciprocals
  • Marine mammals sometimes confuse trash as food and can be injured by trash.
  • Please see the Pollution page for more information.

Benefits of Whalewatching

  • Increasing awareness
    • Whale watching increases public knowledge of the issues facing the marine environment.
    • Most whale watching boats has a naturalist on board that helps the public identify the different species of cetaceans and educates the public about the issues each species may face.
  • Raise money for research
    • Some whale watching boats gives money raised from ticket sales to research and conservation funds.
    • The money raised goes to learning more about the natural history and protection of these animals.
  • Increasing Conservation
    • With naturalist on board whale watching boats to increase the public awareness conservation of these species increase.

Problems with Whale Watching

  • Biological Impacts:
    • Foraging
      • Increased visitation of humans to an area commonly visited by humans may deter marine mammals from visiting that area and possibly a preferred food source that may be more nutritious for them.
    • Mating
      • Increased visitation of humans to a area commonly visited by humans may also deter marine mammals from mating in areas that have environmental conditions suitable for the raising of a calf or pup.  
      • These areas may have the proper water conditions, ice, and food sources that the mother needs to regain strength from giving birth and to produce milk for the calf or pup.
    • Migration
      • Change in migration routes may alter the behavior of the marine mammal which may lead to changes in foraging patterns and mating behavior.
    • Socializing 
      • If the marine mammal is spending all of its time tiring to get away from humans it may detract from the time the mother spends nursing the calf and teaching the calf to hunt for food.
    • Diving
      • The marine mammal may increase or decrease dive time when around humans. 
      • Change in diving behavior may make it more difficult for the boat captain to find where the cetacean is going and may cause injury to the cetacean.
    • Resting
      • If the cetacean is spending all of its time defending or moving away from humans then it does not have time to rest therefore increases the probability that it will get sick.
    • Traveling
      • If the cetacean is traveling from location to location to avoid human interactions then the animal does not rest which will increase the chances for illness in the animal.
  • Wildlife viewers maybe more damaging to wildlife than other tourist because they actively seek and approach wildlife.
  • Collisions
    • Collisions are one of the causes of death among marine mammals. 
      • Blunt trauma from boats can cause death. 
    • Experienced whale watch boat captains can avoid collisions.
  • Exploitation 
    • Exploitation occurs when the marine mammal’s behavior is changed.

For more information on whale watching visit:
•    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
•    Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
•    International Whaling Commission (IWC)
•    Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society