Written by Deborah Tobin

   Welcome to the Bay of Fundy! If you've decided to include a whale watching excursion in your vacation plans, this site will help you participate in this activity responsibly.

   Remember that the whales are wild creatures in their natural environment, not captive animals who preform tricks at a trainer's command. While you watch, they may feed, mate, nurse calves, rest, and play. The behaviors associated with these activities are natural and beautiful. What is not natural is changing behaviors through irresponsible activities in the whales' habitat areas.

   Watching whales is a privilege, not a right. You should think of yourself as a guest in the whale's home and act accordingly

   The Bay of Fundy is a world renowned whale watching area, with tour boats sailing from both the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick shores on a daily basis from June through October. You can sail from the mainland of either province, or you may choose to embark from one of the spectacular islands in the Bay of Fundy. Among the species regularly sighted are humpback, minke, finback and the rare North Atlantic right whale. It is this species that is most at risk from human activities in its habitat areas.

   The North Atlantic right whale is the world's rarest large whale; fewer than 350 remain alive today. Originally reduced by commercial whaling, the right whale continues to face many problems on its slow road to recovery.

   Right whales die from collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear. Because of its rarity and other factors which hamper its struggle to survive, it is vitally important to the survival of this species that all possible potential for disturbance be eliminated.

   Whale watching is one of the most rapidly growing tourist activities worldwide. In many areas, the whale watching industry has heightened local interest in marine mammal conservation as well as bringing significant and much needed economic growth. Other positive impacts of whale watching include public education and contribution to scientific studies of various whale species.

   Whale watching can be fun and educational, but great care must be taken in order to ensure that the animals are not disturbed. As a whale watcher, you can play an active role in seeing that your whale watch experience is a safe and enjoyable one - for you and the whales.

You Can Help Eliminate Disturbance To Whales
and other marine wildlife by considering the following

  1. Approach whale watching with reasonable expectations. Those wonderful wildlife documentaries you watch on television took months to film - don't expect that kind of experience on a half day excursion. In many instances irresponsible demands on the part of the whale watch passengers are partly responsible for situations where disturbance occurs. Become familiar with Canadian Government guidelines for whale watching before you sail. Your tour operator should have a copy available.
  2. Choose your operator carefully. Whale watch companies in the Bay of Fundy adhere to a Code of Ethics which governs their behavior around the whales. Make sure your operator has signed the code.
  3. Don't be afraid to express your concerns to the boat captains if you witness actions on their part which seem to disturb whales. In a competitive business environment, they want their customers to have a good experience.
  4. Make sure your tour company provides commentary aboard the boat. Your experience will be greatly enhanced by the interpretation. Keep in mind that fishermen and other people local to the area can provide a lifetime of insight into the environment. While it is not necessary to the success of the trip that the tour operator have a marine biologist aboard, the captain and/or guide should be fully versed in whale behavior. Most of the tour companies in the Bay are run by local families with a wealth of knowledge and information to share.
    For your personal safety, make sure that your operator is Coast Guard approved to carry passengers. Vessels must carry certification which will indicate the number of passengers they may carry, as well as the distance they may travel from port.
  5. Remember that the whales are part of a complicated ecosystem. They interact and co-exist with other creatures. The very best experiences occur when the boat engine is turned off. The quiet allows you to fully experience life in the Bay.
    The whales are more likely to engage in natural behaviors when they are not frightened or disturbed. Let your operators know that getting very close to a large whale is not your only interest. Listen to the sound of the whales breathing in the distance, take the time to watch the seabirds who often feed on the same prey species.

In Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, under the Fisheries Act is the agency responsible for the management of marine mammal populations. Their guidelines for whale watching specifically address behaviors which may be disruptive to the whales.

   In the Bay of Fundy, marine tour operators have created a Code of Ethics which further governs their actions. The purpose of this Code is to foster an environment of cooperation and trust among marine tour operators for the protection and safety of the whales and other marine life.

   Adherence to the following behaviors agreed to by the operators in the Code is voluntary and demonstrates their care and concern for whale conservation. A copy of the complete text of the Code is available from your operator.

No more than two vessels will view a whale or group of whales within 100 metres of the whales.

Boats will maintain a respectable distance to avoid herding the animals.

A maximum of 30 minutes will be spent viewing the animals.

Vessels will move away from whales demonstrating avoidance behavior such as turning away or increasing speed.

Vessel will not chase whales.

Vessels will cover different areas as much as possible so that not all vessels will be converging on the same location.

Vessels will practice caution in the vicinity of fixed fishing gear to avoid steering or herding whales in the direction of the gear.

   Whale watchers should be aware that in order to closely approach a whale for research purposes, a permit must be obtained from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

   Whale watch vessels carrying passengers cannot hold permits to conduct research. Therefore, close approaches by passenger carrying vessels in the name of research should be questioned.

   However, many whale watch companies contribute opportunistic data and photographs to various whale research and conservation efforts. These contributions are valuable if they can be collected without disturbing the animals.

If you have further questions about whale watching guidelines you may contact:

Department of Fisheries and Ocean
Marine Mammal Advisor, Box 550, Halifax, N.S. B3J 2S7
Tel;(902) 426-9609/ Fax(902) 426-9683