National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

One Blackburn Drive
Gloucester, MA 02930

April 24, 1996

Dear Whale Watch Enthusiasts:

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), as a federal agency responsible for protecting whales within the U. S. waters, is especially concerned with the safety of the North Atlantic right whale. This species has suffered an unusual level of human-related mortality this past winter and we are asking all responsible groups to help eliminate any further unnecessary disruption to this animal's spring and early summer foraging while in New England waters. We developed guidelines in 1988 to inform vessel operators about safe vessel operation near whales, and NMFS intends to continue considering alternatives for addressing the problem of close approach to marine mammals by vessels/persons. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts currently has a 500+ yard minimum approach distance for the right whale, and we are in the process of considering similar proposed regulations concerning approach to right whales in all waters.

It is essential that right whales be afforded full use of the marine environment during this critical spring foraging period when cow/calf pairs are utilizing the Cape Cod Bay and great South Channel critical habitat areas. Therefore, until final action is taken regarding additional federal regulations, we are advising all vessels that the 500 yard minimum approach distance established by the Massachusetts regulations provides an adequate buffer for the whales. In cooperation with the U. S. Coast Guard and area scientists, aerial surveys are being conducted to locate right whale concentrations so that large shipping vessels may navigate to avoid these areas. We are asking the commercial whale watching community to do their part by not intentionally pursuing or approaching right whales.

Thank you for you cooperation.


Christopher L. Mantzaris
Chief, Habitat and Protected Resources Division

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