Code of Conduct for Whale Watching

We have to remember that whales are wild animals and to be able to enjoy them in the future we need to be patient and show them respect. We will try to get you close but how close we get is always on the animal’s terms as we aim to minimise disturbance. This is a Code of Conduct we aim to abide by, however, there are many variables to consider when out at sea, such as the weather, number of whales, prey availability, if there are calves present, animal behaviour and so on and so forth.


Caution-Zone (50m >)

When possible, stop the propeller if cetacean approaches the vessel and do not re-engage propulsion until the cetacean is observed well clear of your vessel. Do not touch, swim with or feed cetacean.

Searching-Zone (3000m >)

Keep a dedicated lookout and stay in radio contact with other vessels (approaching and departing). Avoid making sudden or excessive noises and disturbance for the cetacean. Avoid sudden speed or course changes (approaching and departing). Assess the cetacean behaviour and avoid repeated attempts to interact with animals that are showing signs of distress.

North Sailing Guidelines for observing cetaceans in Skjálfandi Bay

– Based on experience and research since 1995

Human activity in the vicinity of marine mammals that is deemed as harassment can result in a range of impact varying from no observable effect, to modifying their behavior, to causing physical harm to the animals. When boats go too close, approach too fast, or make too much noise, cetaceans may be disturbed and stressed. Such activities can cause effects such as: separation of mothers from calves; disruption of social groups; disruption in migratory patterns; interference in feeding; interference in breeding and reproductive activities and abandonment of nursing calves. It can be difficult to assess the more long-term effects so a precautionary approach is best.

North Sailing is committed to the educational value of whale watching in enabling the sharing of the wider marine conservation message with as many people as possible. North Sailing also provides a platform for research and the gathering of routine information that will help in the wider understanding of whales and dolphins in the area.

By following these whale watching guidelines, North Sailing will reduce any possible negative effect on whales and dolphins in Skjálfandi Bay as well as providing better encounters with more relaxed animals. North Sailing aims to set an example for other boaters and help protect the area´s spectacular wildlife resources.

Avoidance and stress behaviour

Boats should not perform any action that disrupts the normal behavior of the cetacean. A disturbed marine mammal may take the following actions in response to vessel approach:

– Rapid change in direction, speed.

– Escape tactics such as prolonged diving and changing course underwater.

– Underwater exhalation, slapping the surface or breaching are sometimes a sign of distress.

– Evasive swimming patterns such as rapid swimming or “porpoising” at the surface away from potential danger.

– Attempts of a female whale to shield a calf from a vessel by tail swishing or other protective movements.

Approaching-Zone (300m >)

Aim at maintaining a distance of 300 m at the beginning of the encounter and gradually get closer with time. Stop the main propeller (max speed ~5-6 mph). If the cetacean is travelling fast you can speed up a little (up to ~8 mph) but not directly towards the animal.

Avoid following behind cetacean and never deliberately approach directly in front. Vessel movements should parallel them by approaching cautiously at an oblique angle (from behind).

Don’t come closer if there is another boat in the approaching zone, unless the other boat gives away or signals that it safe to approach. This is a Code of Conduct we aim to abide by, however, there are many variables to consider when out at sea, such as the weather, number of whales, prey availability, if there are calves present, animal behaviour and so on and so forth.

Take turns if there are more boats in the area, preferably each boat shouldn’t spend more than 20-30 minutes within the area at once. Never (deliberately) sail through pods of concentrated cetacean. Keep a steady speed if dolphins approach the vessel and start bow-riding or slowly stop and let them pass. Do not attempt to encourage dolphins to bow-ride. Ensure that the vessel does not disturb nesting or resting birds.

Guidelines for operating vessels around cetaceans

1. Approach the area of marine mammal activity with extreme caution. Look in all directions before planning your approach or departure.

2. Reduce speed to less than 5 knots when within 200 meters of the nearest cetacean. Avoid sudden course or speed changes.

3. Avoid driving towards any cetacean closer than 100 meters while the engine is in gear, unless you are approaching from the right angle.

4. Aim to approach and depart from whales from the side, following the direction of travel of the animal. Never approach from the front or from the behind. See figure.

5. If you are approached by a whale or dolphin you should:
a. Continue on your course with little change in direction or speed
b. Stop the vessel to allow the animal to interact with you or move away.

6. Limit your time engaged in viewing to a maximum of 30 minutes, to minimize the cumulative impact of many vessels.

7. Limit the number of boats around an animal to 2 and try to stay on the same side where possible.

8. Keep clear of the path of the animals.

9. Do not attempt to drive through groups of porpoises or dolphins for the purpose of bow riding. Should these animals choose to ride the bow wave of your vessel, gradually reduce speed and avoid sudden course changes