Increasingly, whales around the world are facing modern threats from human activities, including ocean pollution, accidental entanglement in fishing gear, noise pollution from shipping, military and industrial activities, as well as ship strikes and disturbance from vessels, particularly high-speed craft.

Recreational activities in inshore waters have burgeoned recently, and can pose a major threat to whales either by direct injury when animals are accidentally rammed or cut by the boat’s propeller, or by interference or stress caused from the noise made by the vessel’s motor or from its propeller when at speed.

There is no reason however why boats and whales should not be able to co-exist providing that care is taken to observe and obey the following rules:

If you are in possession of a whale watching permit:


  • MAINTAIN A STEADY SPEED when approaching whales
  • DO NOT exceed 10 knots when within a kilometre of the whale(s)
  • DO NOT CHASE the whale(s)
  • DO NOT ENCIRCLE the whale(s) 
  • DO NOT approach a whale closer than 50m (a whale may approach the boat out of its own accord)
  • DO NOT SUDDENLY change course or speed; or stop. This may confuse and alarm the whale.
  • AVOID driving directly through a group of whales. Allow groups to remain together.
  • DO NOT make CLOSE CONTACT to whales with CALVES. 
  • ALWAYS allow whales an escape route.
  • LIMIT your viewing time to 20 MINUTES. Move away SLOWLY
  • SLOWLY move AWAY if you notice signs of disturbance  such as repeated avoidance behaviour, erratic changes in speed and direction, or lengthy periods underwater 
  • TURN ECHO SOUNDERS OFF when the vessel approaches closer than 300m.

If you are planning to go whale watching on a permitted whale watching vessel:

  • READ THE RULES the above mentioned rules to ensure that you are practising responsible whale watching. (Should you be a passenger on a vessel and an incident or accident should occur which is considered illegal, you can also be fined heavily for contravention of the law).
  • REPORT BAD BEHAVIOUR as a passenger, you are entitled to object to behaviour that you consider being detrimental to the wellbeing of the environment, the animals or the passengers; and report such activities to the Department of Environmental Affairs.

If you do not have a whale watching permit: (this includes kayakers) 

  • If you notice a whale or group of whales in the distance, you may approach them slowly and from a safe angle (see below) no closer than 300m. If the animals approach the vessel, you are obliged to move away. 

Fig. 1. Diagram on how best to approach a whale (or group of whales). Note that if your vessel does not have a permit, you are not to enter into the restricted zone. Source: Würsig & Evans, 2001



General rules:

  • DO NOT swim with, touch or feed whales, for your safety and theirs. Besides the stress you can cause them, remember that, just as in humans, diseases can be spread by close contact, and they are larger than humans and can cause unwitting injury.
  • DO NOT throw rubbish or food near or around whales or in the ocean. 
  • People regularly using vessels in areas where whales are known to occur should consider fitting propeller guards to minimise the risk of injury to them.

By following these rules you are helping to reduce the impact of your vessel on marine animals, and doing your bit to ensure their continued conservation and presence in our oceans.

Revised from