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Be as respectful as they are
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 Cetacean friends.
Approaching a Cetacean
Please notice that different countries and states may have different regulations.
It is very sensible to always acquire information from local authorities/operators before you go Whale Watching.

Here is some important guidelines:
  • Slowly approach Cetaceans sideways, never from front or rear.
  • Never cross the path of a Cetacean or a 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 pod or group of Cetaceans.
  • Be aware of other boats in the surrondings. Dolphins and Whales should never feel encircled, and it is very sensible to leave the area if it happens to be already busy.
  • 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 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 Cetaceans. 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.
  • If you swim with Cetaceans, do not try to touch them or get closer than they want you to. As important, check the local regulations before you get in the water with them. Most countries or states do not let people swim with Cetaceans.
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, that is why it is always better to have an expert on board.
Swimming with Cetaceans
As pointed out before, it is extremely important to be aware of local regulations, as swimming with Cetaceans is forbidden in quite a few countries and states.

Scuba Diving with Cetaceans 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!).

Based on our experience, free diving should also be avoided in most cases. In general, we observed that Cetaceans feel more comfortable when humans are quietly floating at surface rather than diving and swimming underwater. This turned out to be the case especially with Mysticeti (baleen whales), and we have found almost no exceptions to this rule with mother and calf pairs.
May be they see us more as a threat or predators in these conditions, even if we are honestly not aware of any studies on this subject.

We believe (and most knowledgeable people do) 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.

It is important to point out that swimming with Cetaceans can be dangerous.
They are powerful animal, which can inflict serious injuries, even if not on purpose.
Also, sometimes the danger is not related to the Cetaceans themselves.
Sharks, for instance, are more likely to be found around marine mammals. When such an encounter takes place, you must be aware that floating on the water surface is by far the most dangerous and vulnerable situation you could find yourself in when dangerous sharks are around.

If swimming with Cetaceans, whenever allowed by law, can be reckoned as a natural, acceptable risk by some people (as we do, honestly), the following situations should nonetheless be strictly avoided:
  • Swimming in waters that are known to be inhabited by dangerous sharks.
  • Being in the water while a newborn Cetacean has just been given birth, especially when in the presence of blood or residues of placenta. Just as important, 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.
  • Swimming with Cetaceans that are engaged in special activities like hunting and mating. Life is about survival and reproductions. You may be on holiday, but Cetaceans are not.
Some Cetaceans, like the Orca (Orcinus orca) and the Pseudorca (Pseudorca crassidens) are known to feed on other Cetaceans and marine mammals (seals, sea lions, etc.).
Most notably, some groups of Orcas feed almost exclusively on marine mammals.
In the waters of Alaska, British Columbia and California they are called Transient Orcas (as opposite to Resident Orcas, which are strictly fish eaters).

While no human being has ever been attacked by Transients, most scientists and researchers generally advise to leave the water if Transients happen to be around.
As no Whale Watch Operator is allowed to let you swim with Orcas in the above mentioned regions, this should not be a problem.

It is also worth to point out that life is particularly busy for Transients, as they can spend as much as 90% of their time travelling and hunting. As a result, little time is left for them to socialise and play with humans.

Even more important, swimming with hunting Transients may induce their prey to take advantage of your presence to hide behind you or try to confuse its predators, which may lead snorkellers and divers into a definitely too active and dangerous situation.

As a final notice, we want to stress on what is to us the all-important point: Orcas are not men eaters, and the sensible precautions above should not affect your perception of scientific data and observations. Please remember that no human has ever been attacked by neither Resident nor Transient Orcas.
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