See a Spout, Watch Out!

See A Spout, Watch out!
See A Spout, Watch out!
See a Spout, Watch Out! is a public educational program for recreational boaters that focuses on how boaters can safely and responsibly watch whales.  The program is sponsored by Whale and Dolphin Conservation, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) providing expert consultation.

Don't let your behavior change theirs. Follow these six tips!


1. See A Spout, Watch out!

If you see a spout, tail, or breaching whale, please slow down and post a lookout. Some whales may dive for 20 minutes or more while searching for food. If you've seen one whale, many more could be close - maybe too close to your boat and its spinning propellers.  Proceed cautiously!


2. Head on is wrong!

Don’t alter a whale’s path by cutting it off. When in sight of a whale, follow official guidelines and adhere to existing regulations that restrict or prohibit closely approaching whales. Always keep your boat a safe distance; don’t risk striking a whale. Federal law prohibits the harassment of all marine mammals. Federal NOAA Fisheries regulations and Massachusetts laws prohibit approaching the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale closer than 500 yards.


3. Lots of boats, then talk to folks!

If there are other boats watching or traveling near whales, hail them on your VHF radio (channel 9 or 16) and coordinate your viewing efforts.

4. Avoid Trouble, Steer Clear of Bubbles!

Humpback whales sometimes feed by creating what are called “bubble clouds”. The whales blow bubbles below the surface of the water to condense schools of small fish. With mouths wide open, the whales surface through the middle (and sometimes just outside) of the bubble cloud engulfing large numbers of dazed fish. Bubble clouds look like light green, foamy patches on the surface of the water. Birds often hover over them to take advantage of the readily available fish. Never approach or drive through a bubble cloud, as a feeding whale is likely to be just below the surface.

5. Don’t Chase, Give The Whales Space!

Closely approaching a whale may cause the animal to move away from its food source. Respect the whale’s behavior and keep your distance. If a whale moves away, don’t chase it. A cautious boater may bet to see whales feeding, playing or breaching. Enjoy the whales; don’t endanger them!

6. Drop Your Sails When Watching Whales!

A boat under sail may not be able to reduce speed or stop at a safe distance from a surfacing whale. When in the vicinity of whales, it is best to utilize your auxiliary motor and proceed cautiously. For additional tips on safe sailing around whales, visit Sharing the Seas


See a Spout, Watch Out! is a program aimed at promoting responsible boat handling by recreational boaters around whales. The program is focused in the Gulf of Maine, particularly on Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. It includes presentations at boater safety courses (in New England) and the distribution of information throughout the Greater Atlantic Region (Maine through Virginia). Contact us to learn how you can get involved.

This program is sponsored and implemented by Whale and Dolphin ConservationNOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

By using catchy phrases, See a Spout helps boaters remember safe operational procedures and whale watching guidelines that will allow for a safer experience and helps boaters view whales in accordance with federal whale protection laws.

Whale SENSE is a companion program for commercial whale watch vessel operators in the Greater Atlantic Region.


You can find more about the program, and take a quiz to see how much you know at the official See a Spout website.