Caution Boaters: Migrating Humpbacks Spotted off Virginia

It’s prime time for large whales to migrate along the Eastern Seaboard, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is warning boaters in the Chesapeake Bay region to be aware.

Photo: Whale and Dolphin Conservation via NOAA Fisheries

NOAA Fisheries reports that humpback whales have been spotted off Virginia recently, and are asking boaters there to be especially cautious on the water. They ask everyone to keep a safe distance— 100 feet for humpbacks and most other whale species, but 1,500 feet for right whales. A boat that is too close can cause enough noise to interrupt whale activities, make them nervous, or drive them away from an area. And of course, boat propellors are a deadly threat to whales.

A large number of whale deaths has prompted NOAA to declare Unusual Mortality Events (UMEs) for humpbacks, minke whales, and North Atlantic right whales. It’s the first time there have been three UAEs at the same time for a given area.

This months’s Chesapeake Bay Magazine digs deeper into the alarming deaths, in Wendy Mitman Clarke’s feature, “The Plight of Whales.” Click here to read it.

NOAA Fisheries offers these guidelines, if you encounter a migrating whale:

“The best ways you can help keep whales safe are to go slow, stay back, keep a close watch, and report problems.

If a whale is entangled, don’t risk your life by attempting to remove the gear yourself. You could actually make the entanglement worse. Your role is still the most important one–call our hotline or the Coast Guard immediately so trained responders can locate the whale and remove the gear safely (and legally).

If you can stay within a safe distance of the whale for awhile, or even until responders arrive, you will increase the whale’s chances of being successfully rescued.”

If you see a whale in distress or one that is exhibiting dangerous behavior (like approaching boats too closely) please call NOAA’s hotline at 866-755-6622 or, in Virginia, contact the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center at 757-385-7575.