NOAA 2000-117
Contact: Stephanie Dorezas


Over the ages, humans have held a high fascination with marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions. Today, that level of interest remains strong, and has fostered a booming business of marine mammal watching cruises, recreational boating excursions, and diving and swimming tours. However, there is growing concern that some viewing practices can be harmful to the animals.

In response to these concerns, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service is partnering with marine mammal experts from the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the U.S. Coast Guard, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the National Park Service to promote responsible marine mammal viewing practices, the agency announced at a Marine Mammal Awareness Symposium in Ocean City, Md.

"We are concerned that viewing marine mammals in the wild can be dangerous to both the animals and to people if not conducted responsibly," said Jeannie Drevenak, a marine mammal permit analyst in the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. "There are numerous examples of marine mammals being injured by boats when people get too close, or of animals being harmed when people try to feed them. In addition, there are several examples of people being injured by marine mammals when they frighten or attempt to touch, swim-with or feed the animals."

Activities of concern include closely approaching, petting, teasing, feeding or swimming-with marine mammals in the wild, such as whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions. Agency officials are concerned that the average citizen is unaware that feeding or harassing wild marine mammals is dangerous to both animals and humans and illegal under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. People who engage in such interactions also risk their own safety. The federal marine mammal viewing guidelines developed by NOAA Fisheries recommend observing wild dolphins from a safe distance of at least 50 yards and using binoculars or telephoto lenses to get a good view of the animals.

"Our goal is not to prevent people from viewing wild marine mammals, but to provide guidelines to the public and tour operators for viewing marine wildlife in a way that is safe for both animals and people," said Drevenak. "To further our education efforts, NOAA has recently partnered with the "National Watchable Wildlife Program," a consortium of federal and state agencies working with wildlife protection groups to promote responsible viewing of wild animals. Just as terrestrial wildlife officials and scientists have successfully taught proper conduct in the wilderness through messages like ‘Don't Feed the Bears and View Wildlife from a Safe Distance', we hope to educate the public about the importance of respecting the needs of marine wildlife, and allowing wild marine mammals to stay wild."

"We encourage people to learn about wild marine mammals and observe them in their natural habitat. Therefore, we try to educate the public about the dangers of interacting with them so that we may prevent the need for an enforcement action," added Scot Yamishita, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement special agent. "If you see a marine mammal violation, such as people feeding wild dolphins or chasing them with boats, please call our Enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964."