The Regional Activity Centre for the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife for the Wider Caribbean Region
Caribbean Environment Program
DEAL Guadeloupe
United Nations Environment Programme
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Whale Whatching Guidelines

The Wider Caribbean Region (WCR) region is important for a great number of cetaceans (whales and dolphins), whether as a permanent habitat, a breeding ground or a migration corridor. Currently, at least thirty species of whales and dolphins have been identified in this area. The presence and diversity of cetaceans in the WCR region has led to the development of marine mammal watching, both on a commercial and recreational basis. Marine mammal watching, in this context, is defined as viewing activities in the natural environment, of any cetacean species from land, sea or air.
In order to ensure the conservation of whales and dolphins in the WCR region, a regional workshop has been organised in 2011. An initial step towards that goal is the development of best practice guidelines for the WCR to ensure the sustainable development of the marine mammal watching industry. These codes would apply to all types of marine mammal watching, including dedicated, seasonal and opportunistic, commercial operators, and recreational vessels.
While these guidelines are recommandations in WCR, different regulations can apply at a national level.

At all time

  • Do not touch a cetacean
  • Do not feed a cetacean
  • Do not make any loud or sudden noises
  • Do not make sudden or repeated changes in direction or speed.
  • Dedicated observer(s) should be on duty in addition to the captain of the vessel.
  • Do not place a vessel up wind of or in a position where it will drift into the no-approach zone.

When you approach

  • The most appropriate method for approaching a whale or a dolphin is from the side and
  • slightly to the rear of the animal.
  • Avoid approaches from head on or directly from behind.

    Click on the image to enlarge

These distances refer to active approaches by vessels moving towards cetaceans.
Dolphins and whales may sometimes approach vessels to closer distances. Closer specific approach distances could be considered to reflect local conditions/situations/licensing where changes to the recommended distances would not compromise the protection of the individuals/populations being watched.
The caution zone is the area within 100m - 300m from a whale and 50m – 300m from a dolphin.
For a vessel, the no approach zone is 100m from a whale and 50m from a dolphin including the area directly in front and behind a pod.
If a vessel accidentally approaches cetaceans closer than the recommended distance, it must move away from the no-approach zone at slow speed.
Pods of cetaceans containing calves are particularly vulnerable to disturbance and require additional protection.
Exercise extreme caution with pods containing calves.

When other vessels are within the caution zone of whales or dolphins

  • Approach cetaceans slowly and cautiously;
  • Observe cetaceans at a speed not exceeding the speed of the animals.
  • Leave boat engine on and in idle when watching cetaceans
  • Do not disperse or separate a group of cetacean
  • A vessel should not chase, encircle, block the direction of travel of cetaceans, or position itself in the middle of a pod.
  • If cetaceans approach a vessel, slow down gradually and put engines in idle.
  • If cetaceans approach a vessel to bow-ride, maintain a slow and steady speed and avoid sudden changes in course.
  • When departing from watching cetaceans, determine where the animals are relative to the vessel to avoid collisions or coming too close to the animals, and increase speed gradually while exiting the caution zone.

Swimming with cetaceans

Swimming with whales or dolphins may place both people and animals at risk.

For those countries where swim-with activities are currently being undertaken, it is
recommended that the following standards be applied to these operations.

  • Swimming with the use of any underwater breathing apparatus should not be allowed.
  • Underwater flash photography or lighted filming should not be allowed.
  • Appropriate drop-off distance for swimmers and minimum swimmer distance from animals;
  • Swimmers should not be allowed in the water with surface-active large whales;
  • Prohibit leap-frogging during swim-with encounters and limit the number of swimmer drop off’s or attempts.
  • Consideration should be given to:
    • Regular review of operational standards as credible scientific information on the impacts of swim-with programs becomes more available;
    • All persons in the water with whales or dolphins should be accompanied by an appropriately trained local guide;
    • Limiting the maximum number of vessels permitted to undertake swim-with activities in a region;
    • Limiting the number of swimmers allowed in the water at any one time with a pod;
    • Limiting the maximum interaction time with a pod/population per day, including maximum swim time for each interaction, time required between successive swims and maximum cumulative interaction time per day;

You can find bellow the complete report of the workshop from 2011.