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Notice to Cape Cod Boaters: Watch Out for Whales

April 6, 2017

With endangered right whales returning to Cape Cod Bay, we want to take this opportunity to remind mariners to keep a sharp lookout for flippers, spouts, and any signs of whales in the water.

There has been an unusually high number of right whale sightings around the Cape Cod Canal and in Cape Cod Bay this year, including two recently spotted mother and calf pairs. Last May, one of the eight calves was killed by a vessel strike, and was found floating off Chatham, Massachusetts.


Distinctive v-shaped blow. Credit Khan/NOAA

“With right whales in very high concentration in the Bay and knowing that they can be very difficult to spot as they often hang just below the surface, I am very concerned about vessels striking these animals,” says Charles “Stormy” Mayo, PhD, Director of the Right Whale Ecology Program at the Center for Coastal Studies, an important private partner that works closely with NOAA and the state. “With only three known calves born this year in the North Atlantic, the two calves in our Bay are extremely precious, and we need to do all we can to keep them safe.”

Vessels 65 feet or greater in length are required to travel at 10 knots or less Off Race Point through April 30 and in Cape Cod Bay through May 15. In addition, we ask that vessels of all sizes go slowly and keep a good lookout for whales.


Paddle-shaped flippers. Credit: Khan/NOAA

We also post areas with 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.

It is against the law to approach within 500 yards of right whales from any direction. Together, these regulations help 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 spot even at close range. Going slowly in areas where right whales have been sighted is the best way to avoid hitting them.


Smooth black tail. Credit: Matzen/NOAA

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.

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 five 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).

Resources

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 Jennifer.Goebel@noaa.gov.