Humpback whale tails.

Marine Life Viewing Guidelines

What You Can Do

Know the law—learn the regulations and viewing guidelines before spending time on the ocean and along our coasts. Be aware that guidelines and laws can vary by state and by species.

Report animals that appear injured or sick. If you think an animal is in trouble—if it’s entangled, stranded, sick, or injured—please report itAnd, keep your distance. These animals are already vulnerable and may be more likely to bite.

Keep pets away from marine life. Wild animals can injure and spread diseases to pets, and in turn, pets can harm, injure, disturb, and spread diseases to marine wildlife. If you are traveling with pets, always keep them on a leash and away from areas frequented by marine animals like seals and sea lions.

Report incidents of people or pets tormenting, disturbing, or attempting to touch a marine mammal or sea turtle. Contact NOAA’s National Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1864.

Never feed or attempt to feed marine animalsit’s illegal. Marine wildlife, like all wild animals, may bite and inflict injuries to people who try to feed them. Feeding by humans can alter animals’ natural behavior, make them dependent on handouts, and can be harmful to their health.

Limit your viewing time to 30 minutes. Time spent observing an individual or group of marine mammals should be limited to 1/2 hour. And when observing animals from a boat, keep in mind that your vessel may not be the only one that approaches the same animal(s) that day. Prolonged exposure to several vessels increases the likelihood that marine mammals will be disturbed.

Cautiously move away from animals if you observe any of the following behaviors:

  • Rapid changes in direction or swimming speed.

  • Erratic swimming patterns.

  • Escape tactics such as prolonged diving, underwater exhalation, underwater course changes, or rapid swimming at the surface.

  • Tail slapping or lateral tail swishing at the surface.

  • Female attempting to shield a calf with her body or by her movements.

  • Chuffing (loud exhalations) at surface.

  • Seals or sea lions lunging, moving away, fleeing or trampling pups.

Help NOAA Fisheries learn more about whales by reporting whale sightings.

North Atlantic right whales along the East Coast:

  • From Maine to Virginia, call (866) 755-NOAA. 

  • From North Carolina to Florida, call (877) WHALE-HELP.

  • Or, contact the U.S. Coast Guard via channel 16.

Southern Resident killer whales in Puget Sound, Washington:

  • Call (866) 672-2638 (866-ORCANET) or (800) 562-8832.

Whales in Alaska:

Lend a hand with trash removal. Garbage and marine debris is a big threat to marine animals. Carry a trash bag with you and pick up litter found along the shore and in the water. Plastic bags, floating debris, and monofilament line pose great risk to marine mammals and sea turtles.