Whale Watching and Wildlife Viewing in New England and the Mid-Atlantic
New England and the Mid-Atlantic coastlines offer the potential for exhilarating marine wildlife viewing experiences. Whether on the beach or on the water, if you see protected animals like whales, dolphins, seals, sea turtles, or Atlantic sturgeon, follow the tips below to keep the animals and your passengers safe.
How much space depends on the animal you are viewing.
- North Atlantic right whales: 500 yards or 5 football field lengths (required by law)
- Other whales: 100-600 feet
- Seals, dolphins and sea turtles: 150 feet
- Leaping sturgeon also require extra space to avoid injury to you and the fish
See a spout, a strange ripple at the water’s surface, an aggregation of jellyfish, or another indication animals are close by? Slow your vessel to 10 knots or less (required for vessels 65 feet and over in designated areas) if you suspect they are nearby. If you see animals, use a no-wake speed until they safely pass.
Feeding marine animals puts them at risk of injury or illness if they approach people or boats too closely, become dependent on handouts, or eat something they shouldn't. Dependent animals can become aggressive. Feeding protected marine animals is also against the law.
In areas where you think animals might be, use caution. Keep a close watch for signs that animals are in the area, such as splashes, disturbances at the water's surface, or lots of excited sea birds.
Only cast or troll your gear when you're sure protected marine animals aren't near your boat. Dolphins, sea turtles, and sturgeon can be easily hooked or entangled by these activities.
Humpback whales create bubble clouds as one of their feeding strategies. Getting too close to these bubbles is dangerous for you and the whales, since they aren't likely to notice you're there. Don't cast or troll near or around these bubble clouds.
Visit our partnership program See a Spout, Watch Out for more tips on boating safely around whales and other marine life.
You can help save the life of a marine mammal (whale, dolphin, seal) or sea turtle in trouble by calling our New England/Mid-Atlantic hotline (866) 755-6622, radioing the Coast Guard, or contacting your closest authorized responder directly. Never enter the water or attempt to rescue on your own. This puts you and the animal in a dangerous position.
If your boat hits an Atlantic sturgeon, please call your state environmental agency to report the incident.
Photography and Video Tips
The best wildlife photography happens when animals feel safe and able to act naturally. Follow these tips to use get a good shot:
- Selfies with protected marine animals should never be attempted. They put you at risk of being bitten or injured, scare the animal, and violate the law.
- Use a telephoto lens or your zoom, fast shutter speed, and a polarizing filter so you can capture natural behaviors while maintaining a safe distance.
- For whales, the further away you are, the better you can capture the full size of the animal.
- By law, don’t use drones within 1,500 feet of right whales. Maintain at least 1,000 feet from other marine mammals and sea turtles since the shadows and noise from drones can scare or bother them.
- Commercial photographers and researchers may also require special permits.
Know the Law
Marine mammals, sea turtles, and Atlantic sturgeon are protected by federal laws that prohibit people from harming or harassing them. If your behavior changes their behavior, that may be considered harassment. Following these safe viewing guidelines helps you follow these laws.
Please also know that if you are outside of the New England and Mid-Atlantic region, other restrictions may apply.
Your Choices Matter
Whether it’s your choice to go slow, call in a report, or choose a responsible whale watching tour, your choices help to protect these special ocean creatures for future generations. Give the animals space and respect, and you might be amazed by what you'll see.