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Notice to Boaters: Watch Out for Whales

Whales have returned to our waters for the summer, so we want to take this opportunity to remind mariners that vessels 65 feet or greater in length are required to travel at 10 knots or less in areas and seasons where endangered North Atlantic right whales may be present.

 Right whales have paddle-shaped flippers. Credit: Christin Khan/NOAA

In waters off coastal mid Atlantic states, this rule is in effect within 20 nautical miles around all major ports. We also established a program for temporary voluntary speed limits, called Dynamic Management Areas, when an aggregation of three or more right whales is confirmed in a particular area. We send out email alerts (sign up here) when these DMAs are established, and they are also posted online.

These requirements were put in place primarily to protect right whales, which, with fewer than 500 animals remaining, are some of the most endangered whales in the world. However, these rules benefit other species that use coastal areas to migrate and feed, and as nursery grounds.

With no dorsal fin, right whales are particularly difficult to see from the surface. And, they often feed just below the surface, making them hard to see even at close range. Going slowly in areas where right whales have been sighted is the best way to avoid hitting them.

We remind everyone of our whale watching guidelines, which include no intentional approach within 100 feet, keeping speed to 10 knots or less, and a 1,000 foot minimum altitude for aircraft (1,500 feet in all directions for endangered right whales).

Right whales have a distinctive v-shaped blow. Credit: Christin Khan/NOAA

Boats of all sizes—including kayaks—are at risk for colliding with whales. Collisions are dangerous for boats, passengers, and whales. Boats can sustain extensive damage from striking a whale, passengers can be thrown overboard, and whales can be gravely injured by the impact. Striking a whale can also result in criminal and civil penalties under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act.

How You Can Help

If you see any of the following, stay alert as right whales might be in the area:

If you see a right whale, stay at least 500 yards away (approximately three football field lengths). This is a state and Federal law and also applies to kayaks and fishing boats. If a right whale comes within 500 yards of your boat, slowly depart the area to maintain the 500-yard buffer.

If you see other whales, maintain a distance of at least 100 feet and never approach the animal head-on or interrupt feeding, resting, socializing, or traveling behaviors.

Report right whale sightings and injured, entangled, ship struck, or dead animals to NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Animal Reporting Hotline: 866-755-NOAA (6622).


These rules are part of NOAA's broader effort to reduce vessel-caused injuries and fatalities to whales. We also:

Questions? Please contact Jennifer Goebel, Regional Office, 978-281-9175 or