No doubts Whale Watching is a fantastic, breath-taking experience, but there are rules to be followed in order not
to cause distress or even damage to our whale, dolphin and porpoise friends.
Be as respectful as they are
Here is some important guidelines:
Slowly approach the animals sideways, never from front or rear.
Never cross the path of a cetacean or group of cetaceans in the aim to anticipate
their moves and facilitate a closer encounter: they will most probably feel chased and avoid you.
Slow down to "no-wake" speed and maintain a steady direction.
You will make them feel more secure and the probability of a close encounter will be higher.
Never split a group of cetaceans.
Whales, dolphins and porpoises should never feel encircled and it is very sensible to leave
the area if it happens to be already busy. Be aware of other boats in the surrondings.
Be especially aware of the presence of mothers and calves, exactly as you would be
in your intraspecific relations.
Never spend more than 20 minutes with any particular group of cetaceans,
unless they want to spend a longer time with you.
Never feed cetaceans.
You do not want to perturb their natural feeding habits, which may cause big problems in the long run.
Try to make as little noise as possible.
Be aware of possible signs of distress (see below) and leave at very low speed the area
if you notice any.
Kindly discourage other people from putting a lot of pressure on the Skipper in the aim of
making her/him get closer and closer (and finally too close) to the animals.
It sadly happens more often than one can imagine. The best Whale Watch Operators are the ones who are more
sensible, not the ones who get closer. Moreover, the most sensible operators have often the best encounters.
Signs of distress
It is very important to be able to recognise some general behaviours of Cetaceans that may be related to distress,
fear, or disturbance.
In such cases Cetaceans should be left on their own, and it is very important to immediately leave the area:
Blowing air underwater should be taken as a warning sign.
Lobtailing (tail slapping) and tail-sweeping.
Anomalous dive sequences and unusually prolonged dives with substantial horizontal movements.
Remember that you should never chase cetaceans. It is not the easiest sign to recognise and that is why
it is always better to have an expert on board.
Swimming with Cetaceans
Most countries or states do not let people swim with cetaceans.
In the few places where such activity is allowed it is just as important to
carefully check the local regulations before you get in the water with them.
If you happen to be allowed to get in the water with cetaceans,
do not try to touch them or get closer than they want you to.
Scuba diving with whales, dolphins and porpoises should be avoided.
As mentioned before, making bubbles underwater is often seen by cetaceans as a warning sign, and as such it can be
seen as an aggressive behaviour.
On the other hand, holding the breath while scuba diving is of course not an option, as it can cause serious, even
fatal damages due to lung overexpansion (this is in fact the first and most important rule of scuba diving).
Free diving should also be avoided in most cases.
In general, cetaceans appear to be more comfortable when humans are quietly floating at surface rather than
diving and swimming underwater. This turns out to be the case especially with baleen whales (suborder Mysticeti)
and we have found almost no exceptions to this rule with mother and calf pairs.
It is generally thought that humans may be seen more as a threat or predators by cetaceans in these conditions.
Most knowledgeable people believe it is imperative to wear snorkel gear, fins, and some kind of
diving suit (wet suit or dry suit, depending on water temperature) while swimming with cetaceans.
Movements while in the water should be as smooth as possible and attempts to touch cetaceans
should always be avoided.
Swimming with cetaceans is a potentially dangerous activity and people willing to get in the water
with whales, dolphins and porpoises should accept the natural risk connected to it.
While very gentle, cetaceans are powerful animal, which can harm humans even if not on purpose.
However, the activity can have a much higher impact on cetaceans, as humans in the water may disrupt their behaviour,
cause unnecessary stress and ultimately reduce their fitness.
It is very sensible to leave the water should any of the following situations occur:
A newborn cetacean has just been given birth or snorkelers are in the presence of a very young animal.
It is surely a cause of a great deal of distress for
both mother and calf to have humans around in such delicate moments of their life.
The animals are engaged in special behavoiurs such as courtship or mating.
Life is about survival and reproductions. You may be on holiday, but cetaceans are not.
Tha animals are engaged in aerial displays, such as breaching (jumping off the water) or lobtailing
(tail slapping). This is particularly important with large cetaceans due to their sheer mass.
The animals show signs of distress or just appear to be nervous.