The Department of Marine have recently issued a marine notice for all operators and skippers of recreational craft on guidelines for correct procedures when encountering whales and dolphins in Irish coastal waters.
This Notice arises from a meeting the IWDG had with the Department and the National Parks and Wildlife service to discuss regulation of whalewatching.
This is an important and significant action and will go a long way to ensure the development of responsible and sustainable whalewatching and increase peoples opportunity to watch these magnificent creatures in the wild without disturbing them.
The IWDG congratulate the Department of Marine for their initiative and look forward to working with them to ensure full compliance.
DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS, MARINE AND NATURAL RESOURCES
Marine Notice No. 15 of 2005
To the Operators / Skippers of all Passenger Boats, Angling Boats, Passenger Vessels, Fishing Boats, and Recreational Craft.
Guidelines For Correct Procedures When Encountering Whales And Dolphins In Irish Coastal Waters
Irish Coastal Waters provide a habitat for a broad range of whales and dolphins (Cetaceans); to date some 24 species have been recorded. In 1991 the Irish Government declared all Irish Waters a whale and dolphin sanctuary.
Under current National Legislation – S.I No. 94 of 1997, Natural Habitat Regulations, Cetaceans are listed, and regulations prohibit the deliberate disturbance of these species.
Coinciding with the increased awareness of these mammals within our waters is an increased frequency of small craft coming into contact with them, and the emergence of whale watching as a tourist activity using licensed passenger vessels.
There are definite risks associated in engaging these mammals, particularly the larger whales. Generally they are present some distance offshore, in open waters, and late in the year when weather conditions are not always suitable for small craft.
As wild animals their actions may be unpredictable particularly if they feel their young are at risk, and considering their size are certainly capable of causing damage to small craft.
Passenger vessels offering whale and dolphin watching tours should ensure the crew
· are aware of correct procedures to follow when encountering cetaceans,
· ensure craft are suitably licensed to operate in sea areas where whales may be located. e.g. for a passenger boat with a P3 license plying limit of up to three miles offshore, P5 has a plying limit for sea area up 30 miles offshore.
. liase with staff of the National Parks and Wildlife or Irish Whale and Dolphin Group for guidance prior to offering any such service to the public.
The following guidelines are intended to offer best practice to be followed in cases of any interaction between small craft and large mammals within Irish waters:
When whales or dolphins are first encountered, craft should maintain a steady course.
Boat speed should be maintained below 7 knots.
Do not attempt to pursue whales or dolphins encountered.
In the case of dolphins, they will very often approach craft and may engage in bow riding. Always allow dolphins approach a boat rather than attempt to go after them.
Maintain a distance of at least 100m from whales.
Maintain a distance of 200m between any other boats in the vicinity.
Attempt to steer a course parallel to the direction whales or dolphins are taking.
Do not corral whales or dolphins between boats.
Special care must be taken when young calves are seen – do not come between a mother and her calf.
Successive boats must follow the same course.
Boats should not spend more than 30 minutes with whales or dolphins.
DO NOT attempt to swim with them.
Craft that do encounter any species are encouraged to log all sightings and to advise the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) or officers of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which is a division o