Watching whales in their natural habitat can be a breathtaking experience. This activity has become increasingly popular, now drawing over 13 million people a year, making it one of the fastest developing tourism industries.
A successful trip isn't just about spotting whales, however. It's also about ensuring the safety of the viewing public and of the majestic creatures as well.
This is why NOAA and Whale and Dolphin Conservation developed Whale SENSE; an educational awareness program dedicated to responsible whale watching.
Whale SENSE partners with commercial whale watching companies, from Maine to Virginia, who volunteer to follow specific guidelines and viewing practices during their ocean adventures.
Participants must also commit to the following:
Educate passengers about whale protection laws and display the Northeast Whale Watching guidelines, from NOAA Fisheries, onboard their vessels.
Report injured or dead marine mammals, and stand-by entangled animals when possible.
Have all crew members and educators on board complete annual training on responsible whale watching practices; and participate in yearly conservation projects.
Whale watching may not seem intrusive, but it can actually disrupt whale feeding, nursing, mating and migrating behaviors, and can cause unintended injuries to both whale and whale watcher.
Participating in Whale SENSE, then, means a company is committed to minimizing the risks by keeping a safe distance and promoting marine mammal conservation.
Whale watching is a fast growing industry that encourages people to protect whales and their habitats, supports developing economies, and provides local employment. If done responsibly, it all makes perfect sense.