Watching whales and other marine mammals in their natural surroundings gives Canadians an opportunity to better appreciate these beautiful animals, but when humans get too close to wildlife in their habitat, we risk disturbing and even harming marine wildlife.
How to Avoid Disturbing Marine Mammals
Well-intentioned watchers may unknowingly disturb marine mammals. You can avoid being disruptive or threatening by using binoculars to watch safely and responsibly. If a whale approaches you in the water, we ask that you move away and keep your distance.
Be Whale Wise
While watching marine mammals, you should never:
- feed them
- swim, dive or interact with them
- move, encircle them or entice them to move
- change directions quickly or park your boat in their path
- approach them when they’re resting: the whale will look like it’s not moving and will be floating at the surface or near the surface
- separate a mammal from its group or go between it and a calf
- trap a marine mammal or a group either between a vessel and the shore, or between a vessel and other vessels
- approach them if there are already several boats present
- approach head on or from behind, as this will cut off their movements
- tag or mark them
- touch, feed or disturb an animal, even if it comes up to a wharf or the shoreline
- approach using aircraft
- Porpoises and dolphins: If dolphins or porpoises ride the bow wave of your boat, avoid sudden course changes. Hold course and speed or reduce speed gradually. Do not drive through groups of porpoises or dolphins.
When you encounter seals:
- reduce boat speed, minimize wake, wash and noise, and then slowly pass without stopping, (‘wake’ is the disturbed water caused by the motion of a boat’s hull passing through the water, ‘wash’ is the disturbed water caused by the propeller or jet drive)
- avoid sudden changes of speed or direction
- move away slowly at the first sign of disturbance or agitation. If the animal starts to stare, fidget or dive into the water, you are too close.
Be cautious and quiet near haul-outs, especially during breeding and pupping seasons (generally May to September). Pupping season is when seals, sea lions and walrus give birth.
Beached seal pups
If you see a young seal that seems to be alone and in distress, keep your distance and your pets leashed, as its mother is probably nearby. Seals normally spend long hours out of the water resting and shouldn’t be disturbed.
Canadian waters are home to seasonal populations of endangered leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles. In fact, waters off Atlantic Canada are among the most important in the world for leatherbacks. These tropical turtles come here from their nesting grounds in Central and South America to feed and grow fat on jellyfish.
Toll-free turtle hotline at 1-888-729-4667 to report your sighting. 24 hours/day, 7 days/week or visit https://seaturtle.ca/turtle-sighting
Distances: Keeping a minimum distance is the law
The rules for whale watching and approaching marine mammals, which are now in effect, provide a minimum of 100 metres away from most whales, dolphins, and porpoises, and keeping a minimum of 200 metres away if they are in resting position or with their calf.
If you see an injured, stranded, entangled or dead animal, contact the following emails or 24-hours/day toll-free numbers. You can also help track these aquatic animals to ensure their safety by reporting a sighting. http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/mammals-mammiferes/report-rapport/page02-eng.html
Identify Marine Mammal species here http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/mammals-mammiferes/identify-identifier/index-eng.html
For more information please visit http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/mammals-mammiferes/watching-observation/index-eng.html