Rec Boaters Need To Watch Out For Whales – New Report

Rec Boaters Need To Watch Out For Whales – New Report
Monday, 21 May, 2012

Recreational boaters need a greater understanding of what to do when encountering whales and dolphins according to IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare following a review of potential impact from recreational boaters.

The report, The Impact of Recreational boats around Whales and Dolphins in their Australian Habitats released today, also underlined that park rangers and enforcement officers need to be better resourced in order to ensure the current whale watching guidelines and regulations are adequately enforced, with recent incidents of deliberate harassment of whales and dolphins resulting in very few prosecutions.

“We have around a million boats in our waters and this is due to increase. While most people are relaxing, enjoying their surroundings, unfortunately there are a few whose lack of knowledge or irresponsible behaviour is putting whales and dolphins at risk,” said Matthew Collis, IFAW Campaigner.

“IFAW is sending a message to everyone on the water, ‘watch out, whales about!’. We’re asking people to keep watch for whales and dolphins, keep their distance, and keep speed and noise down to avoid disturbing these magnificent animals that come to our shores every year,” said Mr Collis.

Globally, the focus has been on large whales being hit by big commercial vessels, and IFAW has been at the forefront of proposing solutions such as shipping speed restrictions, redesigning shipping routes and using new technology to alert mariners to the presence of whales. But recent incidents highlight irresponsible use of small vessels is a threat to large and small whales and dolphins too. And they are not just at risk of collisions but they are also being disturbed by vessel noise.

Whale and dolphin reliance on sound for communicating, foraging and breeding means that exposure to additional noise can be detrimental. The problem of noise disturbance is not limited to just large ships. Even small boats can reduce the communication range of bottlenose dolphins from 26-58% within 50 metres.”

The Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching state boats should not approach a whale any closer than 100m and a dolphin any closer than 50m and not directly from the rear or the front of the animal. This distance is extended to 150m for a dolphin and 300m for a whale if a calf is present. Boats should travel at slow speeds with no sudden changes of direction and no more than three vessels should be within the so-called caution zone (150m of a dolphin and 300m of a whale) at any one time.

Most jurisdictional guidelines and regulations in Australia compare well against world standards but there is room for improvement. Australia’s commercial whale watching industry is well monitored but many responsible whale watching operators are increasingly expressing concern about the inappropriate actions of a few recreational boat owners when interacting with whales and dolphins. This is a problem nationwide.

The report contains 12 recommendations to help address the problem, such as:

• Include questions about the regulations in all boat licence tests
• Ensure guidelines are adopted into legislation nationwide and that systematic enforcement efforts take place across all jurisdictions in Australia.
• A national hotline and website explaining the rules and ensuring incidents are reported to the correct authorities.


The fifth IFAW National Whale Day is on 2 June 2012 with over 70 events around the country. The theme this year is “Watch Out, Whales About”, focusing on responsible behaviour on the water. Further information

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Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation