With summer in full swing, the warm weather lures many locals and visitors onto the water.  If you are a boater or paddler, or a British Columbia coast resident, you may be lucky enough to spot whales, dolphins, and porpoises (collectively referred to as cetaceans) while cruising the coast.

The Vancouver Aquarium’s B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network program collects sightings reported by the public. With your help, we gather information that is being provided to scientists across the province. We use the information to monitor the species’ movements and activities along B.C.’s expansive coastline to better understand their behaviours and help inform important research, conservation and recovery actions.

It is easy to report your sightings. You can call 1-866-I-SAW-ONE, email [email protected] or report online by creating an account at www.wildwhales.org. We can even send you a log book that you can leave in your boat!

In the excitement of spotting wild cetaceans, it is easy to forget that the presence of humans and their vessels can impact these animals. When we get too close, approach too quickly, or make too much noise, we may disrupt the whales and interfere with foraging, resting and socializing. Boats can also directly injure cetaceans through collisions. The animals that survive these strikes show the telltale scars inflicted by propellers, like the humpback with a ragged scar along its back observed near Haida Gwaii.  Unfortunately, the outcome of many ship strikes are often unknown because the animals are never re-sighted, the vessel operator(s) are not aware of the collision, or the event goes unreported.

This summer, make sure to follow the Be Whale Wise guidelines to ensure your boating experience keeps cetaceans safe and reduces dangerous disturbance.

1. Be cautious and courteous: approach areas of known or suspected marine wildlife activity with extreme caution. Look in all directions before planning your approach or departure.

2. Slowdown: reduce speed to less than 7 knots when within 400 metres/yards of the nearest whale.  Avoid abrupt course changes.

3. Keep clear of the whales’ path: if whales are approaching you, cautiously move out of the way.

4. Do not approach whales from the front or from behind. Always approach and depart whales from the side, moving in a direction parallel to the direction of the whales.

5. Do not approach or position your vessel closer than 100 metres/yards to any whale.

6. Place engine in neutral and allow whales to pass if your vessel is not in compliance with the 100 metres/yards approach guideline (#5),

7. Stay on the offshore side of the whales when they are traveling close to shore.

8. Limit your viewing time to a recommended maximum of 30 minutes. This will minimize the cumulative impact of many vessels and give consideration to other viewers.

9. Do not swim with, touch or feed marine wildlife.

Some of the curious and playful dolphin and porpoise species on the coast present a tricky situation with the guidelines, as they may approach vessels to bow-ride.  In the case of bow and stern-riding porpoises or dolphins:

1. Do not drive through groups of porpoises or dolphins to encourage bow or stern-riding.

2. Should dolphins or porpoises choose to ride the bow wave of your vessel, avoid sudden course changes. Hold course and speed or reduce speed gradually.

To help boaters learn about cetacean conservation and the Be Whale Wise guidelines, the Vancouver Aquarium is launching its second year of ‘Dock Talks’. Volunteers will be visiting busy Lower Mainland marinas almost every weekend this summer to talk to boaters and spread the message.  Check the schedule and look for them at a marina near you!

Wildlife watching on the water can be a special experience, but remember your actions can help keep whales, dolphins and porpoise safe and greatly reduce human impacts on these species.

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