DENR Reminds of Whale Watching Etiquette
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has received reports of reckless boaters and swimmers trying to get close to whales, endangering both the whales and themselves. Whales are wild animals and can be unpredictable, particularly if agitated.
To minimize the disturbance caused by whale watchers and to ensure the safety of the boating public while they watch the whales, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has developed guidelines for whale watching which are available at https://environment.bm/whale-watching-guidelines.
The Department asks that members of the public familiarize themselves with these guidelines prior to going whale watching. In particular, DENR asks that the boating public DOES NOT approach closer than 100 meters (or 300 feet) to any whale. Whales will sometimes approach a boat of their own accord. If this occurs, put your engine in neutral and let the animal(s) come to you.
If a whale tries to leave the area where you are in a boat, do not chase after it.It is strongly recommended that members of the public do NOT swim with any whales, no matter how docile they may appear. With a casual slap of their tail, or even a fin, the whale could unintentionally strike a swimmer causing injury or even worse. Those tails and fins are big and heavy!
Boaters and swimmers may not intend to be intrusive, but getting too close to the whales can actually disrupt feeding, nursing and migrating behaviors, and boats, in particular, can cause unintended injuries to the whale.
Behavior that indicates a whale is agitated or no longer interested in staying near a vessel may include:
• Regular changes in travelling direction or speed of swimming
• Tail slapping or trumpet blows
• Repetitive diving
• Hasty dives
• Changes in breathing patterns
• Increased time spent diving compared to time spent at the surface
• Changes in vocalization behavior
Under the Protected Species Act 2003 it is an offense to injure, disturb or harass a humpback or sperm whale. A person who commits such an offence is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $25,000 or two years imprisonment.
If you see a boat harassing a whale please contact the Fisheries Wardens at 535-4615 or the Operation Center of the Coast Guard at 294-0610.
If you have a camera please take photographs or video recordings of the harassment, including the boat name and registration number. Send that evidence to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The peak weeks for humpback whales to be spotted around Bermuda are mid-March through April. They swim through our waters on their journey from their breeding grounds in the Caribbean to their feeding grounds on the eastern seaboard of North America, and for some as far north as Greenland and Iceland.
It is absolutely thrilling to see these magnificent animals spouting, breaching, slapping their fins and tails on the water or swimming along slowly with a calf, but they need to be treated with consideration and respect.