The Massachusetts Boater Safety Handbook
The Official Boating Handbook of the Massachusetts Department of Natural Resources - Web Version
Table of Contents
All whales, dolphins, and porpoises in the northeast region are federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act; and most large whales in the area are further protected under the Endangered Species Act. Under these laws, it is illegal to “harass, hunt, capture, or kill” any marine mammal. Prohibited conduct includes any “negligent or intentional act that results in the disturbing or molesting of marine mammals.” Violations of these laws may result in fines of up to $50,000, imprisonment, and/or seizure of one’s vessel.
Boating Near Whales
Various species of whales, including the Humpback, Finback, Right, and Minke, may be encountered in our state’s coastal waters. The Northern Right whale is the most endangered marine mammal, with no more than 500 remaining in the world. Boaters maneuvering around whales improperly risk the safety of all passengers on board, as well as potential injury to the whales.
To protect whales in their habitat, the following operation guidelines are recommended.
- Avoid excessive speed or course changes within 500 yards of whales.
- Do not approach within 500 yards of Northern Right whales.
- Approach with extreme caution within 100 yards of any species of whales other than Northern Right whales.
- Approach whales from the side—not head-on—and don’t box them in.
- Don’t cut off their path.
- Don’t separate mothers from offspring.
- If a whale approaches within 100 feet of your vessel, put your engine in neutral. Do not reengage your engine until the whale is observed on the surface, outside of the 100-foot zone.
- If you sight one whale, expect to see more whales in the immediate vicinity.
If you observe a whale entangled in fishing gear or other man-made material, do not attempt to disentangle it. Contact the U.S. Coast Guard or the Massachusetts Environmental Police on VHF radio channel 16, or call the Large Whale Disentanglement Network at 1-800-900-3622.
For further information on the protection of marine mammals, visit the websites of the Center for Coastal Studies at www.coastalstudies.org or the National Marine Fisheries Service at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.