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Old 12-24-2009
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Whale Watching Safely

Hey all - I've been sailing since I was a kid, but mostly on dinghies. I just finished my ASA 101 and 103 certs in August. Since then, I've chartered bare boats a few times out of Marina del Rey, CA very successfully. I'm looking to go do some whale watching, as the grey whale migration should now be in full effect, but I do want to be cautious of going to close. The last thing I want to do is bring my hull in contact with one.

Is there any advice anyone can give me on how best to go whale watching safely? Should I lower sails and fire up the diesel inboard when I see some so that they'll hear me and swim clear of me? Any input is appreciated!

Thanks,

B
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Old 12-24-2009
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The whale museum at Friday Harbor has some good gudelines / rules.

Whale Watching in the San Juans
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Old 12-24-2009
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I have heard that there is minimum distances you are allowed so as not to harass the whales or interfere with whatever whales do. Stiff fines levied for those who violate the distances. I have no idea what whose minimum distances are in your area. If you want to get close, you may be better off taking a whale watching tour...whose guys know where the whales can be founded and when, all at a safe/legal distance.

If you see bubbles around your boat (that's how some whales corral fish in a tight bubble pattern just before shooting up from below, engulfing massive amounts of fish), might want to bend over and kiss you butt good-by 'cause you're about to get a HUGH visitor! This would be a really bad time to do your favorite impression of Pinocchio as well!

All kidding aside, people have lost boats by getting too close to these behemoths...
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I'm mostly interested in whale watching through binoculars/telephoto lens by a few hundred yards. I don't think there's much for me to worry about, but I did want some advice from those who have done it before.
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Old 12-24-2009
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Like an 800lb gorilla, whales go where they want to go. This may very well be in your direction. Just don't p*$$ them off.......i2f
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Close encounters

I also sail in Santa Monica bay. I've had 4 uncomfortably close encounters - as in change of pants close - only 1 of which I knew that a whale in area. For the past few years the whale season has been year round: mostly fins and blues with the winter run of greys. Exciting to see, but you'd best be prepared for a quickly sinking ship. I believe the legal distance is 100 yds. Got luck!
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Old 12-26-2009
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Off the coast of SC and Georgia we'll see right whales, which are protected. You cannot approach them, which is good for you and the whale. The last thing you want to do is to have one become sexually interested in your vessel, or worse, have it think your boat is a competing male, whereupon it decides to stove in your hull with its snout.
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Old 12-26-2009
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More than just proper distances

During a transatlantic earlier this year, we saw many blows and would take a slight diversion by sailing towards them to get closer. The closer we got, the better the photographs. However, I have since discovered that is not responsible and considered bad form by the professional whale watch operators.

There are probably several web sites with do's and don'ts, but this company has their policies spelled out it an understandable form.

costaricawhalewatching.com/Responsible_Whale_Watching.html

They remain 200 meters away, remain only on parallel paths and never purposefully travel in front of whales.
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Old 12-27-2009
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I've been watching for a bit and do it under sail, just keep a eye out for them and keep your distance, if you find you've migrated into a group, start the motor and vacate that area.

There's always one species or another out there year round, just use the same precautions as you would normally use
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Old 12-28-2009
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There are very clear rules regading behavior around whales. A boat may not approach within 100 yards of a whale. Any actions which cause whales to change behavior is considered harrassment and is punishable by a $10,000 fine. Safe approaches are at an angle to a parallel position. No head on or tail on approaches are acceptable. Surrounding whales with multiple boats, getting between whales, or leap-frogging to get ahead of a moving whale are also prohibited. If whales are known to be nearby, but their precise location is uncertain, the engine should, if on, should be kept running, but put in neutral. Since whales are unpredictable, it is best to maintain a low speed. Counter to some advice above, do not start your motor if you are in the midst of a group of whales. In that situation, put yourself in irons and wait for the whales to leave the area before starting the motor.

Good behavior around whales is richly rewarded. When the whales feel safe, they will often come close and give you great looks and super pictures.
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