Two Virginia Whale Watch Companies Join Whale SENSE Atlantic, Leading the Industry in a Responsible Direction
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Two Virginia Beach ocean tour operators, Rudee Tours and Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, joined the voluntary responsible whale watching program, Whale SENSE, sponsored by NOAA Fisheries and Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Virginia’s whale watch season runs from January to March, when the humpback whales migrate through the mid-Atlantic from their northeast summer feeding grounds to their calving and nursery grounds located in the eastern Caribbean. By choosing a company with Whale SENSE, whale watchers can be assured that their exhilarating experiences with the whales are not interfering with the whales’ natural behaviors.
“With the largest fleet of head boats in Virginia, and tens of thousands of people taking one of our tours each year, we feel it is important to serve as a role model for responsible and educational whale and dolphin watching,” says Kristen Rayfield, naturalist of Rudee Tours.
The Whale SENSE program, which started seven years ago in the Atlantic region, now spans two coasts and boasts a total of 15 whale watch companies from Virginia to Maine, as well as 7 in Juneau, Alaska.
“Whale SENSE provides an opportunity for us to continue to showcase our dedication to the highest level of ethics and practices and provide an experience for our guests while keeping these incredible marine mammals safe in their habitat,” says Alexis Rabon, Boat Program Coordinator and Naturalist for Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.
Whale SENSE participants follow viewing guidelines by reducing speeds, keeping a safe distance, and communicating with other vessels. They also pledge to advertise responsibly by captioning pictures to inform their passengers of how whales are protected.
“Seeing these majestic animals up close is an exhilarating experience, but we don’t want our enthusiasm to unintentionally cause them harm,” says John Bullard, NOAA Fisheries regional administrator for the Greater Atlantic Region. “Whale SENSE helps us ensure that companies know the laws and best methods for minimizing impacts to the whales, helping to protect and conserve these species for generations to come.”
In addition, Whale SENSE participants receive annual training on whale protection laws, and participate in environmental conservation projects, such as beach clean-ups or sponsoring internship programs. In the event that they see a marine animal in distress, they call it in to authorized responders, and when possible, stand by the animal until rescuers arrive.
“We are thrilled to have Rudee Tours and Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center join Whale SENSE this year,” says Monica Pepe of Whale and Dolphin Conservation. “These companies will act as stewards on the water, setting an example of how to watch whales responsibly in an area where whale sightings have been increasing in recent years.”
All whales in U.S. waters are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal to injure, kill or harass whales.
Having served more than 1 million passengers, Whale SENSE companies continue to be the SENSE-ible whale watching choice. To find out if a whale watch company participates in the program, check for the new Whale SENSE logo on participating vessels.