Influx of whales near Virginia Beach results in increasing human interaction

DOVER, DE -More than 50 separate whales have been spotted near Virginia Beach since December, as  many as 20 in one day. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement reminds all those enjoying the water  to observe whales from a safe distance of at least 100 feet, 500 yards for endangered North Atlantic right whales.

“Giving a whale a wide berth not only helps protect the whales, but also protects those who are  interested in seeing them in their natural habitat,” said Special Agent in Charge Logan Gregory  of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement’s Northeast Division. “All whales are protected under the  Marine Mammal Protection Act. Species in our area – Humpback whales, fin whales and the  North Atlantic right whale – also are protected under the Endangered Species Act.”

The MMPA and ESA prohibit, with certain exceptions, the “take” of marine mammals in waters  or on lands under the jurisdiction of the United States. Both laws define “take” as “harass, hunt,  capture, kill or collect” or the attempt to do so.

What some consider harmless behavior – such as feeding, swimming with or touching marine  mammals – is considered harassment and is unlawful. These actions can disturb the whales  and result in injury to the animals and the people watching them.

NOAA Fisheries believes that watching marine mammals in their natural habitat can be a  positive way to promote conservation and respect for the animals and the marine environment.  However, marine mammals should be admired from a distance for their safety and for viewers’  protection.

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement has a 24-hour hotline to report suspected violations: 1-800­853-1964. Suspected violations in the Virginia Beach area also can be reported directly to  NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement’s Newport News office at 757-595-2692.

For more information on responsible marine wildlife viewing, see

Marine Wildlife Viewing Guidelines  http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/education/viewing_wildlife.pdf

Northeast Regional Viewing Guidelines  http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/education/viewing_northeast.pdf

Whale Watching Guidelines http://www.nero.noaa.gov/prot_res/mmv/approach.html

Marine Mammal Viewing in the Northeast http://www.nero.noaa.gov/prot_res/mmv/