Two Virginia Whale Watch Companies Join Whale SENSE Atlantic, Leading the Industry in a Responsible Direction
Original article can be found here.
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.
We would like to welcome Newburyport Whale Watch as the newest addition to the Whale SENSE Atlantic program! On June 1, Newburyport Whale Watch crew were trained by Whale SENSE coordinators.
The first company in the Massachusetts north shore/ New Hampshire south shore region, we are proud to work with such a dedicated new participant!
With the start of our 7th season and our expansion to new regions, we decided it was time for a new look. Check out our new logo! Let us know what you think!
Don’t worry, for those of you attached to our bubble whale, it’s not gone for good! As we develop new materials, our bubble whale will make guest appearances to help us educate children and those young at heart. Stay tuned!
Allen Marine, one of our Juneau Whale SENSE Alaska pioneering participants, recently conducted a beach clean-up on Admiralty Island! Using two boats, 22 members of their crew helped pick up trash on the beaches of Piling Point, Barlow Point, Green Cove and Oliver Inlet. Even with bears in the area, the crew managed to gather quite a bit of trash (and still get picked up safely). See pictures of this great effort below! This stewardship project is just one example of how Whale SENSE participants are making a difference!
Photos courtesy of Allen Marine
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