For tourists visiting Juneau and Southeast Alaska, there is no sight more exhilarating than seeing humpback whales bubble feeding or breaching. Whale watching is a significant part of the local economy, and NOAA Fisheries wants to ensure that whale watching remains a viable and sustainable enterprise.
In response to concerns over the growing number of commercial and recreational whale watching vessels in Southeast Alaska, and the potential to disturb these animals during their critical foraging season, NOAA Fisheries is introducing a voluntary program called Whale SENSE to the Juneau whale watching community for the upcoming 2015 season.
Originally developed in collaboration with the whale watching industry on the East Coast, Whale SENSE recognizes whale watching companies committed to responsible practices. The Alaska program is sponsored by NOAA Fisheries and Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Over the past fall and winter, a working group of Juneau whale watch operators has worked closely with NOAA Fisheries to modify the program to fit the local industry.
“Whale watching is one of the activities that puts Juneau on the map as a world-class visitor destination,” said Jon Kurland, assistant regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries Protected Resources Division in Alaska. “We encourage companies to work with us to minimize impacts to whales, enhance the passenger experience, and continue to build a positive reputation for the industry by engaging in responsible viewing.”
Local Whale SENSE participants include Allen Marine, Gastineau Guiding, Alaska Galore, Rum Runner Charters, and Juneau Tours. Participating companies agree to:
- Stick to the regional whale watching guidelines
- Educate naturalists, captains, and passengers to have SENSE while watching whales
- Notify appropriate responders of any whales in distress
- Set an example for other boaters
- Encourage ocean stewardship
“Our goal is an educated and respectful approach to whale watching,” said Aleria Jensen, coordinator for the program at NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region. “We’re proud of these companies for taking a leadership role and committing to stewardship on the water.”
Upon successful completion of training and evaluation, Whale SENSE businesses receive materials identifying them as active Whale SENSE participants featuring the Whale SENSE logo and current calendar year. Based on operator input, changes for the upcoming season include a new logo, revised operational guidelines and evaluation procedures, and flags to identify participants.
Whale SENSE on the web: http://whalesense.org
Alaska humpback whale approach regulations: http://www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/protectedresources/mmv/guide.htm