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Responsible whale watch program continues to expand along U.S. east coast

Contact: Maggie Mooney-Seus                                   FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
978-281-9175 (office)                                                   June 10, 2014
774-392-4865 (cell)

Shearwater Excursions from Nantucket, Massachusetts has joined NOAA, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC)  and 11 other commercial whale watching companies as a new Whale SENSE member. Through this collaborative educational effort, over 1 million people now know what it means to engage in “responsible whale watching.”

“We joined Whale SENSE because we strongly believe that marine mammals are intelligent animals that deserve the respect of the community that interacts with them and that universal viewing guidelines should be followed by that community,” said Rachael Perkins, owner, Shearwater Excursions. “Whale SENSE provides sensible protocols for observing these magnificent animals.”

Whale watching is an important industry for many coastal communities from Maine through Virginia. Currently one-third of the whale watching industry in this region is participating in this voluntary program, showing that whale watching can be conducted responsibly, respecting the whales’ natural behaviors, while also maximizing passenger enjoyment and educational experience.

Current whale watch partners include: Starflight Fleet in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey; Cape May Whale Watch and Research Center, Cape May, New Jersey; Dolphin Fleet in Provincetown, Massachusetts; Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises, Barnstable, Massachusetts; Provincetown Whale Watch, Provincetown, Massachusetts; Bar Harbor Whale Watch, Bar Harbor, Maine; Sea Salt Charters, Provincetown, Massachusetts; Cape May Whale Watch, Cape May, New Jersey; Plymouth Whale Watch, Plymouth, Massachusetts; American Princess Cruises, Queens, New York; and Spirit of Cape May, Cape May, New Jersey.
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While public education is the cornerstone of this partnership, the whale watch industry also helps federal agencies and authorized organizations address a key threat to large whales -- entanglement in fishing gear. Since the program began ten years ago, at least 17 whale entanglements have been reported by Whale SENSE boats.  In instances where Whale SENSE partners were standing by, rescuers were able to more quickly find and help distressed animals.

These companies also aid in ongoing efforts to help scientists better understand whales and other marine life.  For instance, companies gather important data on annual entanglements, vessel strikes, and collect images of satellite-tagged whales that record various biological and whale movement information.

All whales are protected under federal laws, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act, that safeguard them from being injured, killed, harassed, or having their natural behaviors interrupted. Companies participating in Whale SENSE agree to use responsible viewing practices to minimize the potential for harming whales, to provide customers with a high standard of education, and to promote ocean stewardship and conservation.

To become a Whale SENSE participant, company vessel operators and the naturalists who narrate tours attend annual trainings on whale watching guidelines and regulations, safe operations, and whale ecology. After completing the program, the whale watch company is granted full use of the Whale SENSE logo to promote its business and is listed on the Whale SENSE website.

To learn more about the Whale SENSE program, please visit our website www.whalesense.org or call us at 978-282-8462.

On the Web:

http://www.whalesense.org

http://www.wdcs.org – Whale and Dolphin Conservation

https://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov – NOAA Fisheries/Northeast Regional Office

http://stellwagen.noaa.gov – NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, (formerly WDCS) is the leading global charity dedicated to the conservation and protection of whales and dolphins. We defend these remarkable creatures against the many threats they face through campaigns, advising governments, conservation projects, field research and rescue. WDC’s North American office is based in Plymouth, MA. WDC staff, volunteers and interns conduct research and work to protect whales from the threats they face.  Visit www.whales.org to learn more about how you can help as a volunteer, advocate, or donor.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at http://www.noaa.gov or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/noaa.

NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary encompasses 842 square miles of ocean, stretching between Cape Ann and Cape Cod offshore of Massachusetts.  Renowned for its biological diversity and remarkable productivity, the sanctuary is famous as a whale watching destination and supports a rich assortment of marine life, including marine mammals, seabirds, fishes and marine invertebrates.  The sanctuary’s position astride the historic shipping routes and fishing grounds for Massachusetts’ oldest ports also makes it a repository for shipwrecks representing several hundred years of maritime transportation.