Greater number of whale sightings cause for celebration, but remember to give whales a wide berth

Fall 2013

It is hard to believe the last whaling station operating in the United States was located in San Francisco Bay where fins, humpbacks, and sperm whales were harvested for oil and pet feed up until 1971.

After forty years of protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, and much to the joy and excitement of the public, many of these whales can be found in greater numbers in their native waters, including Monterey Bay.

They can often be seen close to shore feeding on small fish.  It is natural to be mesmerized by the colossal size and strength of these animals when seen up close.  Humpback whales, in particular, put on quite a display when they rocket through a school of fish and lunge out of the water. 

But this behavior is extremely dangerous to humans who venture too close when the whales are pre-occupied with feeding, which can often be a violent and high-energy activity.  Humpbacks often herd schools of fish to the surface of the water and then lunge through the schools – eventually rising out of the water – with their mouths open, catching the fish in their baleen.  Paddle boarders, kayakers, and others recreating in the same area as the whales, especially in close proximity, risk serious if not fatal injuries.

Conversely, humans could harm the very animals they adore.  It is important that people not crowd or surround these animals.  Getting too close to any marine mammal is not only against the law but may also interfere with an animal’s ability to capture its prey.  Vessel keels, propellers, or line could cause serious internal or external injuries to whales, especially juveniles.  Always remain at least 100 yards away from the whales.  In Puget Sound, regulations require that boaters stay 200 yards away from killer whales. 

Whales and humans can co-exist and thrive if we respect the power and vulnerability of these amazing animals. The public can find National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Wildlife Viewing Guidelines at the following website:

http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/protected_species/marine_mammals/watching.html

http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/protect/oceanetiquette.html