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News Environmental Agencies Urge Caution When Operating Vessels and Personal Watercrafts Near Humpback Whales Within Plymouth Harbor

7/25/2022
  • Division of Marine Fisheries
  • Department of Fish and Game
  • Massachusetts Environmental Police

Media Contact for Environmental Agencies Urge Caution When Operating Vessels and Personal Watercrafts Near Humpback Whales Within Plymouth Harbor

Troy Wall, Communications Director

Whale Watching Guidelines

BOSTONBOSTON – The Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP) and the Department of Fish and Games’ (DFG) Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) are advising all mariners operating vessels or personal watercrafts, such as kayaks and paddle boards, to use extreme caution near Plymouth, Massachusetts, where an aggregation of three juvenile humpback whales have been feeding for at least a week. These young whales are engaged in physically active feeding behavior that is very unpredictable, while feeding in a shallow area on menhaden (or “pogies”), a rich and highly abundant schooling forage fish that also attracts striped bass. This creates a safety hazard for both whales and humans.

A collision with a vessel or personal watercraft can cause damage to the vessel, physical injury to the whale, and potential serious injury or death to humans involved. The shallow water and presence of encroaching vessels, along with the young age of the animals, may increase the unpredictability of their behavior. 

Mariners are also reminded it is illegal to harass marine mammals under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. Harassment includes any act of pursuit, torment or annoyance that can injure or disrupt the feeding behavior of the animal. The National Marine Fisheries Service recommends that mariners stay at least 100 feet from whales and take a precautionary approach, given the unpredictable behavior of whales and the potential safety hazards involved.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offers several marine life viewing guidelines for boaters to adhere to, which can be reviewed here and here. These include:

  • Limit time spent observing individuals and groups of animals to 30 minutes or less.
  • Do not chase, encircle, or leapfrog animals with any watercraft. Do not trap animals between watercraft or the shore.
  • Avoid approaching marine mammals when another watercraft is near. Multiple vessels are more likely to disturb marine mammals.
  • Avoid excessive speed or sudden changes in speed or direction near whales, dolphins, or porpoises.
  • When encountering marine mammals, slow down, operate at no-wake speed. Put your engine in neutral when whales approach to pass.
  • Avoid approaching whales, dolphins, and porpoises when calves are present.  Never put your watercraft between a mother and calf.
  • Be wary of breaching and flipper-slapping whales that might injure people or watercraft.
  • Stay clear of light green bubble patches from humpback whales. These are sub-surface bubbles before whales rise to feed at the surface.
  • Never pursue or follow marine wildlife—any vessel movement should be from the recommended distance and slightly parallel to or from the rear of the animal. If you need to move around marine wildlife, do so from behind. Never approach head-on.
  • Do not intentionally direct your watercraft or accelerate toward a marine mammal with the intent of creating a pressure wake allowing them to bow or wake-ride.
  • Slowly leave the area if marine mammals show signs of disturbance.

Additionally, mariners are encouraged to avoid encroaching on the feeding whales and their food source. The area off of Plymouth Harbor is being patrolled by the Plymouth Harbormaster, MEP, and the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Office of Law Enforcement to monitor the area, to conduct outreach, and for enforcement purposes.

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Media Contact for Environmental Agencies Urge Caution When Operating Vessels and Personal Watercrafts Near Humpback Whales Within Plymouth Harbor

Division of Marine Fisheries 

The Division of Marine Fisheries manages the state’s commercial and recreational saltwater fisheries and oversees other services that support the marine environment and fishing communities.

Department of Fish and Game 

The Department of Fish and Game works to preserve the state's natural resources. We exercise responsibility over the Commonwealth's marine and freshwater fisheries, wildlife species, plants, and natural communities, as well as the habitats that support them.

Massachusetts Environmental Police 

The mission of the Massachusetts Environmental Police is to protect the environment and natural resources of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts through enforcement, education, and public outreach.
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