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Tourism and Animals

Cetacean Viewing

Whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals

In areas inhabited by marine mammals, vessel operators must keep a good lookout and always be careful to avoid collisions, which may include shutdowns, slowdowns and/or moving away from the animals.

Animals may alter their behavior if they are disturbed by your activities. If the cetacean is agitated or no longer interested in staying near the vessel, the behavioral changes may be observed When in doubt, err on the side of caution, and give animals time and space.

General guideline near marine mammals:

  • Do not stay with the animals too long, with a suggested maximum time of one hour. If signs of disturbance or change in behavior occur at any time during the stay with the animals, retreat slowly and quietly.
  • Never herd (circle), separate, scatter, or pursue a group of marine mammals, particularly mothers and young.
  • If a cetacean approaches a vessel to bow-ride, maintain a relatively constant course and speed. Do not enter a group of dolphins to encourage them to bow-ride.
  • Playback of underwater sound of any kind should not occur. This includes recorded whale or dolphin sounds.
  • Helicopters or any aircraft should cease contact if the animals repeatedly dive or increase speed.
  • Post a dedicated lookout to assist the vessel operator in monitoring the location of all marine mammals.
  • Avoid direct approaches.
  • Approach at no faster than no-wake speed or at idle, whichever is slower.
  • Approach the animals from parallel to and slightly to the rear.
  • Once traveling with the animals, travel parallel with them.
  • Stay well clear of feeding baleen whales.
  • Try to position the vessel downwind of the animals to avoid engine fumes drifting over them.
  • Ideally there should not be more than one vessel at a once. Establish communication between vessels, small boats or Zodiacs in multi-vessel approaches to coordinate viewing and to ensure that there is no disturbance or harassment of the animals. There should not be more than 2 or 4 small boats at once.
  • If multiple vessels are watching the animals at one time, it is suggested that a maximum of two ships or four small craft, should position themselves adjacent to each other to ensure the cetaceans have large open avenues to depart through.
  • Be aware of local geography – never ‘trap’ animals between the vessel and shore.
  • Avoid sudden or repeated changes in direction, speed or changing gears when close to marine mammals.
  • If a boat is closer than the recommended minimum distance, it should be removed at a slow, steady speed and not cause waves. Until reaching at least the minimum distance.
  • Be aware that whales may surface in unexpected locations.
  • Breaching, tail-lobbing or flipper slapping whales may be socializing and may not be aware of boats. Keep your distance.
  • Feeding humpback whales often emit sub-surface bubbles before rising to feed at the surface. Avoid these light green bubble patches.
  • Emitting periodic noise may help to let whales know your location and avoid whale and boat collisions.
  • If cetaceans approach within 30 meters or 100 feet of your vessel, put engines in neutral and do not re-engage propulsion until they are observed clear of the vessel.
  • Stay quiet, turn radios down, and restrict passenger movement in small boats or Zodiacs during close encounters.


Always move away from the animals to their rear, i.e.,not in front of them. Move off at a slow no-wake speed to the minimum of the close approach zone. Avoid engaging propellers within the minimum approach distance, if possible..

Source: IAATO

The Royal Decree 17272007 of Dec. 21, laying down measures for the protection of cetaceans specifies how to approach cetaceans without affecting the animals or populations.

More information on respectful cetacean viewing in the book "Guia de Cetacis del Parc Natural de Cap de Creus" (in Catalan) by Projecte Ninam.


Responsible Cetacean viewing companies in Spain


Associació Cetàcea

Cétaceos & Navegación

Bonadea II

Ver Ballenas


Asociación Tursiops