Give Whales Bubble Room in Alaska
Humpback whales are commonly seen when boating in Alaska. It is important that boaters follow regional regulations and viewing best practices for the safety of humpback whales and boaters themselves.
Don't burst their bubble!
In Alaska, humpback whales are protected by federal regulations that prohibit approaches within 100 yards and vessel operations that may cause take. When viewing humpback whales from a boat, it is important to make sure that your presence does not affect their behavior. If your behavior changes their behavior, that may be considered harassment.
In Alaska, humpback whale approach regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act require that you:
✗ Not approach within 100 yards of a humpback whale
✗ Not place your vessel in the path of oncoming humpback whales causing them to surface within 100 yards of your vessel
✗ Not disrupt the normal behavior or prior activity of a humpback whale
✓ Operate your vessel at a slow, safe speed when near a humpback whale
Follow these tips
Don't let your vessel's presence bubble over
Limit your viewing time to 30 minutes
- Your vessel may not be the only vessel that approaches the same whale(s) that day. Please be aware that cumulative impact from repeated exposure to vessels may occur.
- Limiting your viewing time can also reduce the likelihood of vessels accumulating and helps to prevent vessel crowding around whales.
A whale could pop up at any time
Use a wide berth in areas that you see whale watching vessels idling or traveling slowly
Vessels idling or traveling slowly may be waiting for a whale to surface from a dive or between breaths. Transit an area cautiously when you see vessels behaving this way by providing plenty of space between you and the whale watching vessels and keeping a lookout for whales in the area.
Use the free Whale Alert App to report any live, dead, or distressed whale sightings to the appropriate response agency, helping to reduce whale ship strikes
Don't be in your own bubble
Use VHF radio to coordinate with other boaters to reduce crowding and to avoid ship strike
- When watching whales: Use VHF radio to discuss the location of the whale(s) and to coordinate vessel positioning.
- When transiting: Use VHF radio to listen for or request information from other boaters regarding the whereabouts of whales.
Reduce your spray
Go slow when approaching or departing whales
- Bring your vessel off step when within 1 mile of a whale. A slow approach will allow you to better determine where a whale is. By both slowly approaching and departing a whale or group of whales, you can more easily stop your vessel should a whale surface closer than you expected.
Expand your bubble
Give more space when watching groups or mother-calf pairs
- There may be greater interest to watch a group of whales or mother-calf pairs, resulting in vessel crowding. For your safety and the whales’ keep a distance from the whales and other vessels.
- When you see a single whale, there are often others nearby. By giving groups more room, you can ensure that you’re staying at least 100 yards away from all whales.
- Sometimes whales will leave the group you are watching, or new whales will join. Keep a lookout all around your vessel to ensure that you are aware of all the whales in the area.
Keep a lookout for "pop"-ular surface behaviors
- In Alaska, humpback whales spend the majority of their time feeding on small schooling fish or shrimp-like organisms called krill. The most frequent behaviors observed therefore revolve around feeding.
- When prey is beneath the surface, a whale may do a fluke-up dive in search of deeper prey, or peduncle arch when going more shallow.
- When prey is closer to the surface, a whale may lunge feed at the surface of the water.
- While it is not certain why whales exhibit behaviors like breaches, pec slaps, and peduncle throws, but one explanation is that it may be one of the ways that whales communicate.
Call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964 to report a federal marine resource violation. This hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone in the United States. You may also contact your closest NOAA Office of Law Enforcement field office during regular business hours.
Support responsible whale watching by choosing Whale SENSE operators when booking whale watching tours.
- Whale SENSE
- Whale Alert
- Alaska Marine Mammal Viewing Guidelines
- Humpback Whale Profile
- Alaska Protected Resources