Whale watching > Whale watching guidelines > IWC guidelines

International Whaling Commission's general principles for whale watching

(1) Manage the development of whale watching to minimise the risk of adverse impacts:

  1. Implement as appropriate measures to regulate platform numbers and size, activity, frequency and length of exposure in encounters with individuals and groups of whales;
  2. Monitor the effectiveness of management provisions and modify them as required to accommodate new information;
  3. Where new whale watching operations are evolving, start cautiously, moderating activity until sufficient information is available on which to base any further development;
  4. Implement scientific research and population monitoring and collection of information on operations, target cetaceans and possible impacts, including those on the acoustic environment, as an early and integral component of management;
  5. Develop training programs for operators and crew on the biology and behaviour of target species, whale watching operations, and the management provisions in effect;
  6. Encourage the provision of accurate and informative material to whale watchers, to:

(2) Design, maintain and operate platforms to minimise the risk of adverse effects on cetaceans, including disturbance from noise:

  1. Vessels, engines and other equipment should be designed, maintained, and operated during whale watching, to reduce as far as practicable adverse impacts on the target species and their environment;
  2. Cetacean species may respond differently to low and high frequency sounds, relative sound intensity or rapid changes in sound;
  3. Vessel design and operation should minimise the risk of injury to cetaceans should contact occur; for example, shrouding of propellers can reduce both noise and risk of injury;
  4. Operators should be able to keep track of whales during an encounter.

(3) Allow the cetaceans to control the nature and duration of "interactions":

  1. Operators should have a sound understanding of the behaviour of the cetaceans and be aware of behavioural changes which may indicate disturbance;
  2. In approaching or accompanying cetaceans, maximum platform speed should be determined relative to that of the cetacean, and should not exceed it once on station;
  3. Use appropriate angles and distances of approach; species may react differently, and most existing guidelines preclude head-on approaches;
  4. Friendly whale behaviour should be welcomed, but not cultivated; do not instigate direct contact with a platform;
  5. Avoid sudden changes in speed, direction or noise;
  6. Do no alter platform speed or direction to counteract avoidance behaviour by cetaceans;
  7. Do not pursue, head off, or encircle cetaceans or cause groups to separate;
  8. Approaches to mother/calf pairs and solitary calves and juveniles should be undertaken with special care;
  9. Cetaceans should be able to detect a platform at all times;