Be a Whale-Wise Kayaker

May 11, 2015

Photo at right: Kayakers watch a grey whale from a safe distance in the San Juan Islands. Photo courtesy of


Watching whales from a kayak is one of the most enjoyable activities people can do during the spring and summer months in the Puget Sound. The Salish Sea – the waterways between Olympia, Washington and the Queen Charlotte Islands in Canada – is deeply populated with cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises).

The presence of any human, wind or motor-powered boat can alter a cetacean’s behavior and affect their hunting, feeding, resting, calving, breeding, nursing and travel patterns. To minimize disturbance while observing marine wildlife the Be Whale Wise program was initiated in 2007 for all boating traffic to adopt.

Here are some Whale Wise guidelines to practice while watching marine wildlife by kayak:

  • Give marine wildlife a wide berth: avoid approaching or positioning your kayak closer than 330 feet (100 meters).
  • Keep clear of a cetacean’s path. If any marine wildlife is approaching you, cautiously paddle out of the way.
  • Many paddlers either sing or talk loudly in a consistent cadence when paddling in cetacean- populated waters. Others prefer to use an obvious paddle stroke by diving the blade deep and creating obvious movement for marine wildlife to notice.
  • If paddling with others, group up and create one larger obstacle for the animals to avoid.
  • Position yourself well offshore of marine wildlife, or in a position tight inshore of the kelp line. Orca whales in particular frequently feed within 650 feet (roughly 200 meters) of shore.
  • If you are onshore, do not launch kayaks into passing groups of cetaceans. Enjoy your view of the animals from land as they pass by.
  • Limit your presence to short intervals. During the high viewing months, most cetaceans spend 90 percent of their waking time actively searching for food and feeding. Survival of these animals depends on their regular activities being uninterrupted and undisturbed.


Be Whale Wise guidelines:

Report violations of the Be Whale Wise Guidelines:

In U.S.: NOAA Fisheries, Office of Law Enforcement, (800) 53-1964

In Canada: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, (800) 465-4336