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Approach Regulations for Humpback Whales in Waters Surrounding the Islands of Hawaii Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act


Marine Mammal Protection Act
Action Status
Final Rule
Affected Species


NOAA Fisheries has issued a final rule on approaching humpback whales in waters surrounding the islands of Hawaiʻi. This action finalizes the interim final rule established in 2016. The final rule includes minor grammatical corrections and clarification of exceptions.

The regulations continue to prohibit:

  • Operating an aircraft within 1,000 feet of a humpback whale
  • Approaching within 100 yards of a humpback whale by any means
  • Causing a vessel, person or other object to approach within 100 yards of a humpback whale
  • Approaching a humpback whale by interception (i.e., placing an aircraft, vessel, person, or other object in the path of a humpback whale so that the whale approaches within a restricted distance)
  • Disrupting the normal behavior or prior activity of a humpback whale by any act or omission

Exceptions to the regulations include:

  • Federal, State, or local government vessels, personnel, and assets when necessary in the course of performing official duties
  • Vessel operations necessary to avoid an imminent and serious threat to a person, vessel, or the environment
  • Vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver that, because of this restriction, are not able to comply with approach restrictions
  • Activities authorized through a permit or authorization issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service that may result in the taking of humpback whales

Read the Federal Register notice and supporting documents

Last updated by Office of Protected Resources on 12/21/2023