How Are Whales Protected?

Whales, and other marine mammals, are protected under federal laws.  So what do you need to know?

Marine Mammal Protection Act

  • Protects ALL marine mammal species.
  • Prohibits harming or harassing any marine mammal.
  • Harassment includes anything that can change the animal’s natural behavior.
  • Examples of illegal harassment can include:  cutting off a whale’s path, interrupting feeding behaviors, attempting to swim-with or feed any marine mammal, approaching too closely and causing an animal to leave the area, etc.

Endangered Species Act

  • Protects endangered and threatened marine mammal populations.
  • Includes most large whales in the North Atlantic (humpback, fin, sei, and right whales).
  • Provides additional protections to reduce human-caused harm or harassment.

Special Note: North Atlantic Right Whale Protections

  • North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered, with a population of approximately 500 animals.
  • Right whales are especially susceptible to collisions with vessels.
  • Strict federal and state regulations prohibit approaching right whales closer than 500 yards (1500 feet– about the length of 3 football fields).
  • Vessels 65 feet and greater must also slow to 10 knots during seasonal management areas.  For more info, click HERE.

    North Atlantic right whale. Photo: NOAA
    North Atlantic right whale. Photo: NOAA