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A Look Back at 2014

Bar Harbor Whale Watch reports entangled humpback that was later rescued by team of trained responders, including the Maine Marine Patrol, NOAA Fisheries, the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts.  Photo credit:  Walter Churchill, Bar Harbor Whale Watch. 

In September, an entangled 500 pound male leatherback sea turtle, spotted by a Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch vessel, was successfully freed by the Center for Coastal Studies. Photo credit:  Center for Coastal Studies 

Three successful whale rescues, one successful sea turtle rescue, more whale sightings off New York and New Jersey than is typical, and another new program member – 2014 was a fantastic whale watch season for the Whale SENSE  program. Developed in collaboration with the whale watching industry, Whale SENSE is about responsible viewing of marine mammals and educating the public on the importance of these practices. The program is sponsored by NOAA Fisheries, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

Each year, NOAA Fisheries trains Whale SENSE captains and naturalists on current laws and guidelines for safe whale watching. We also share the latest information on species’ behaviors. This makes it possible for Whale SENSE partners to offer responsible and informative whale watching tours to their patrons. As a result, the whale watching companies are able to play a key role in raising awareness about the endangered populations they observe.

Public education is the cornerstone of this partnership. However, the whale watch industry also helps federal agencies and authorized rescue/response organizations in other ways. For example, they provide valuable observational data on whales, which we use to address major threats to large whales from entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with ships.

Since the program began seven years ago, Whale SENSE partners have reported 19 entangled whales and one sea turtle. In the past year alone, four animals were successfully disentangled by authorized responders participating in the NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding and Disentanglement Network. This was due, in part, to timely reporting by whale watch companies.  

April marks the beginning of the 2015 whale watching season in the Northeast U.S. Whale SENSE participants are already looking forward to the arrival of the first whales. This will provide an opportunity to educate a whole new group of people on the importance of protecting and conserving whales.

Whale SENSE participants:

New York

New Jersey




 “People travel from all over the world to go whale watching in the U.S. Whale SENSE participants not only offer each customer an exhilarating opportunity to view some of the largest creatures on earth in their natural environment, but also a meaningful education experience.”

John Bullard, regional administrator, NOAA Fisheries


“In instances where Whale SENSE participants were standing by, rescuers were able to more quickly find and help distressed animals. Their role in whale rescue is critically important and has literally saved whales’ lives.”

Regina Asmutis-Silvia, Whale and Dolphin Conservation


“Since we draw our livelihood from viewing whales, it’s in our best interest to operate our vessels responsibly and safely. But for many of us, we do this type of work because we appreciate these wonderful animals and want to help protect them.”

Zack Klyver, lead guide for Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company in Bar Harbor, Maine


“Participating in the Whale SENSE program is great because it connects our staff to training and information. We now know what to do and who to call when we see an entangled animal so we can actually aid in their rescue.”

Frank DeSantis, owner, American Princess Cruises


“There is very little information about how whales use the waters south of Cape Cod and what types of protection they may need. We have been pioneering efforts to document whale sighting. We do this by taking photos and collecting data in areas of the mid-Atlantic where such data are limited. ”

Tracie Cicchitti, Cape May Whale Watch and Research Center

“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. We also believe that universal viewing guidelines should be followed by that community. Whale SENSE provides sensible protocols for observing these magnificent animals.”

Rachael Perkins, owner, Shearwater Excursions


“The Delaware Bay Estuary, with its unique mix of fresh and saltwater, provides a nutrient rich environment. It is teeming with life and conducive to whale and dolphin activity. Unlike other areas, many of our whale sightings occur within ten miles of land. We have a great opportunity to help educate the public, many of whom also use these waters for boating and other recreational activities, about the importance of practicing responsible whale watching.”

Jeff Stewart, owner, Cape May Whale Watcher


“We started whale watching on the east coast because we CARE (Conservation Awareness Research and Education). It’s important that we deliver an educational experience that is second to none for our passengers. Our goal – to share our passion and hopefully instill in our  passengers a sense of appreciation and desire to help protect whales.!”

  Steve Milliken, president, Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch


Click on links below to view some of the news coverage from this year about these exciting events. 

Whale Sightings up from Sandy Hook to Cape May --  August, 2014

Entangled Whale Freed off Bar Harbor, Maine – September, 2014

Whale Watching Trip Turns into Successful International Whale Rescue – June, 2014

Huffington Post article on Six Things You Should Know about Whale Watching – June, 2014

Humpback whale rescued from lobster gear in Bay of Fundy – June, 2014

Responsible whale watch program continues to expand along U.S. east coast – June, 2014