How to handle an encounter with whales and dolphins

Swimmers take pictures of a dolphin near the German coastal town of Kiel. Authorities had warned people not to get too close to the animal. Picture by Thomas Eisenkraetzer, dpa via Associated Press
Orla Winters

Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) has issued advice around respecting marine wildlife.

The charity's top tip is to keep your distance as human disturbance can drive whales and dolphins away from the areas where they go to feed, rest or socialise.

WDC has provided specific guidelines for people on boats:

  • Avoid approaching the animals too quickly and take particular care if calves are present 
  • Ideally, approach from behind and to the side and avoid making any sudden movements or noises
  • If dolphins or whales approach your boat, allow them to control the encounter and maintain slow and steady speed
  • Within a surrounding of 300m, maintain a ‘caution zone’. This area should be considered a safety zone for both you and the wildlife and it should not contain more than two boats
  • In order not to distress or repeatedly disturb the wildlife, consider keeping your distance if the animals have already encountered vessels before you
  • Respect their privacy – generally speaking, 15 minutes is long enough for an encounter
  • Any attempt at trying to swim with or to feed the wildlife is heavily discouraged. This is to ensure the wellbeing of the creatures and yourself

The charity also warns that disturbing marine wildilfe is a punishable offence.

If you see someone behaving recklessly close to dolphins or whales the charity advises:

  • Do not approach the person yourself
  • Report them to police by dialling 101 and informing the operator you wish to report a wildlife crime
  • Report the incident in full by detailing the date, time and location 
  • Try to provide clear detail in regards to the actions of the person and the reaction of the wildlife

A short-beaked common dolphin

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