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Tuna Fishermen and Boaters Advised to Watch Out for Whales

NOAA Fisheries reminds all fishermen and boaters to keep a safe distance from whales. Whales can get hooked in tuna rigs or tangled in monofilament line. We recommend boaters keep a distance of at least 100 feet from all whales (and at least 500 yards from endangered North Atlantic right whales, as required by federal law).

In recent years, we have received increasing numbers of reports of tuna fishermen trolling their gear too close to humpback whales. This can result in injuries to both the whales and the people.


Humpback whale corralling fish with a bubble cloud.

Humpbacks create bubble clouds to corral their prey, and then lunge through the center to swallow the small fish. Fishermen or boaters in these bubble patches run the risk of colliding with a massive 79,000-pound humpback whale as it rapidly approaches the surface. When a whale collides with a vessel, it can be gravely injured and die from its injuries. Collisions with whales have also thrown boaters from vessels, causing injuries and even death. 

In addition to the potential risk of a collision, the close proximity of a boat may cause a whale to stop feeding. All whales in U.S. waters are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal for people to harm, injure, kill, chase, or harass whales or any other marine mammal. Harassment includes any activity that results in changes to the whales’ natural behaviors, such as feeding. Penalties for Marine Mammal Protection Act violations are fines of up to $20,000 and up to one year in prison. In addition, some whales are protected under the Endangered Species Act, such as North Atlantic right whales, humpback whales, and fin whales.

Get more information on safe boating near whales, see how you can identify right whales, and watch Watch Out for Spouts, an informative video on the five things you can do to help keep whales safe.