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Watching Marine Mammals on the West Coast

The West Coast provides many opportunities to observe marine mammals as they swim, rest, or tend to their young. On water or on land, bring your binoculars and enjoy watching marine mammals from a safe distance to protect their health, and yours.

The West Coast provides many opportunities to observe marine mammals as they swim, rest, or tend to their young. For your safety, and the animals’ health, never approach or interact with a marine mammal. On water or on land, find a safe viewing distance from the animals that will not disturb their natural behaviors. Bring your binoculars and enjoy watching seals, sea lions, dolphins, and whales.

The Whale Trail features some of the best locations from Canada to Califorinia to watch marine mammals from land, avoiding the impacts of vessel traffic and noise.

Human activities in the vicinity of marine mammals may have adverse impacts on the animals. These impacts may range from no observable effect, to modifying the animal’s behavior, to causing physical harm to the animals. Human activity may result in disrupting important behaviors that are critical to the animals’ health and survival, such as separation of mother whales and their calves, disruption of migratory patterns and social groups (such as killer whale pods), and interference in breeding and/or reproductive and rearing activities (such as the abandonment of nursing pups). In addition, wild animals can injure people, as well as injure or spread disease to pets.  

All marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Some of these animals are also protected under the Endangered Species Act if they are in danger of extinction. It is against federal law to harass or otherwise “take” marine mammals, including disrupting important behavioral patterns such as resting, nursing, feeding, or breeding. Acts of harassment include pursuing, tormenting, or annoying any marine mammal, or attempting to do so, that disrupt natural behaviors or cause injury. Violators of the Marine Mammal Protection Act may be subject to civil penalties or criminal prosecution with a fine of up to $100,000, imprisonment for up to one year, or both.

To report a dead, injured or stranded marine mammal:

To report entangled marine mammals:

  • Entanglement Reporting Hotline: 1-877-SOS-WHAL or 1-877-767-9425
  • The U.S. Coast Guard: VHF Ch. 16

To report harassments and other violations to law enforcement:

  • NOAA Enforcement Hotline: 1-800-853-1964

To report derelict gear:

  • Derelict Gear Hotline: 1-855-542-3935

Seals & Sea Lions

Whales, Dolphins, & Porpoises


Last updated by West Coast Regional Office on October 04, 2022