Whale Watching 
Watching From Shore
Watching During Ferry Crossings
Research and Whale Watching
Watching From a Private or Commercial Vessel
What to Bring
Safe Boating
Watching Whales Without Harassment
Whale Harassment Incident Report
Code of Ethics
Pointers for Small Boats (including Kayakers) Near Whales
Watching From Shore
Watching marine mammals from shore is, of course, the least obtrusive method. You will need binoculars or a high powered scope. A tripod is often helpful when waiting for the marine mammals to surface after a dive. A high cliff or other exposure with an ocean view is best. On Grand Manan Island there are numerous locations that provide opportune viewing - Long Eddy Point (or the Whistle), Swallowtail, Southwest Head, and White Head Island (Gull Cove). Because of the steep cliffs at some of these locations, you can literally look down on the entire whale (or seal). Best viewing times are often early morning or late evening when herring and marine mammals move closer to shore. 

Watching During Ferry Crossings
A number of ferries operate in the Bay of Fundy. The ferry crossing to Grand Manan Island from Blacks Harbour, NB, can be an excellent vantage point to see whales, porpoises and pelagic seabirds. The 1.5 hour crossing passes through feeding areas of marine mammals and seabirds. The view from the top deck is spectacular. Binoculars are useful. The most common species seen from this ferry are harbour porpoises, minke, finback and sometimes humpback whales. On occasion right whales have also been seen but it is not usual. The ferry crossing between Saint John, NB, and Digby, NS, is another possibility, as well as the ferry crossings to Deer Island, NB, from Letete, the Campobello-Deer Island-Eastport summer ferry, and the Grand Manan-White Head ferry. Harbour porpoises and seals would be the most likely species seen, as well as numerous seabirds. Short ferry hops between East Ferry-Tiverton, Freeport-Westport, both in Nova Scotia on the route from Digby to Long Island to Brier Island, sometimes have surprises. A right whale was seen from the latter ferry in 1997.

Research and Whale Watching
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. In the Bay of Fundy, whale watch vessels while carrying passengers can not hold permits to conduct research. Therefore, close approaches by passenger carrying vessels in the "name of research" should be questioned. However, opportunistic data collection, such as position of whales, behaviour and photographs when whales approach the vessel are allowed and can be a valuable contribution to research programs. We use these data frequently at the Grand Manan Whale & Seabird Research Station. They can be recorded without interruption of a whale watch trip, and without disturbing the whales. Our researchers who work on whale watch vessels can develop a valuable perspective of the Bay of Fundy from year to year and even week to week. The data collection can also be an added bonus to your trip, whether collected by the crew or by yourself. 
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Watching From a Private or Commercial Vessel
Whale watching can be an enjoyable experience without disturbing the marine mammals you are watching. Remember that whales are wild creatures in their natural environment, not captive animals who perform tricks at a trainer's command. While you watch, they will feed, mate, nurse calves, rest and play. The behaviours associated with these activities are natural and beautiful. What is not natural is changing behaviours through irresponsible activities in habitat area. 

Watching whales is a privilege, not a right. You should think of yourself as a guest in the whale's home and act accordingly. Whale watching is one of the most rapidly growing tourist activity world-wide. In many areas, the whale watching industry has brought significant and much needed economic growth, as well as heightened local interest in marine mammal conservation. Other positive impacts of whale watching include public education and contributions to scientific studies of various whale species. Whale watching can be fun and educational, but great care must be taken to ensure that the animals are not harassed or bothered. 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. 

When you go whale watching, make sure that you and/or the vessel operator is familiar with:
Basic whale behaviour and abides by:  Federal Whale Watching Guidelines, Local Code of Ethics, Coast Guard Safety Regulations.  They should also have liability insurance and the crew is trained in Basic First Aid and CPR.

You can help eliminate disturbance to whales and other marine wildlife by considering the following:

  • Approach whale watching with reasonable expectations. Those wonderful wildlife documentaries you watch on television took months to film - don't expect that king 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 harassment occur. Become familiar with Department of Fisheries and Oceans guidelines for whale watching before you sail. 
  • Choose your tour operator carefully. Whale watch companies in the Bay of Fundy adhere to a Code of Ethics which governs their behaviour around the whales, make sure your operator has signed the code and abides by the guidelines. Ask to read the code. 
  • Don't be afraid to express your concerns to your captain if you witness actions on their part which harass whales. In a competitive business environment, they want their customers to have a good experience. 
  • 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 allow you to fully experience life in the Bay. However, situations may arise when noise is necessary to alert the whales to the presence of vessel and avoid a collision. This can be done with an echo sounder or light tapping on a rail or the deck. The whales are more likely to engage in natural behaviours when they are not afraid or harassed. Listen to the sound of the whale's breathing in the distance, take time to watch the seabirds who often feed on the same prey species as the whales. Let your operator know that getting very close to a large whale is not your only interest. They'll be delighted to share the full experience with you. 
  • Make sure your tour company provides commentary aboard the boat. Your experience will be greatly enhanced by the interpretation. While it's not necessary to have a marine biologist on board, the captain and guide should be fully versed in whale behaviour. Keep in mind the fishers and other people local to the area can provide a lifetime of insight into the environment. Most of the tour companies in the Bay are run by local families with a wealth of knowledge and information to share. 
  • Vessels should be well maintained, abide by all Coast Guard Regulations , and have all the necessary safety equipment provided. Familiarize yourself with the vessel and equipment when you begin the journey. Request a safety briefing if one is not provided.
  • Never leave the helm when travelling in the vicinity of whales.  Quick action by the helmsperson may prevent accidents but if no one is at the helm serious injuries can occur to both whale, passengers and vessel. Back to top
What to Bring
  • Remember to bring warm clothes, layers are best with wind breakers. It may be hot on shore but the cold waters of the Bay of Fundy will be chilling. Fog will further reduce the apparent temperature. Long pants are in order. Gloves, sweaters, wool socks and long underwear are not out of place. You may not need these initially but by the end of the trip they will be welcomed. Some vessels carry extra clothes and blankets. Remember that alcohol is not recommended if you are feeling cold and should be avoided entirely if there is any risk of hypothermia (lowering of the body temperature).
  • All vessels carry life vests as part of Coast Guard regulations. However, most do not require that you wear them since they are bulky and make it difficult to see your feet. If you feel more comfortable wearing a vest, please enquire with the captain or bring your own, especially for active children. Some vessels do carry more comfortable life jackets as well as the standard Coast Guard approved vests.  If the seas are rolling remember to have one hand for the vessel at all times to prevent falling.  Trips on inflatables usually provide a full flotation suit and require that you wear it.  Be sure to hold on to prevent bouncing out of the vessel.
  • Sun block is essential even if a canopy is present over the passenger area. Sun reflects from the water surface and will burn! You may also experience "wind burn". A moisturizer may help to eliminate the drying effects of the wind. 
  • If you are prone to motion sickness, remedies should be taken before embarking on the journey. Prolonged looking through binoculars or cameras or staring at the wake of the vessel can promote motion sickness.  Be careful what you eat before you board - avoid greasy foods and too many liquids.  Keep your eyes focusing on the horizon.  Move toward the stern and midship rather than the bow where the vessel's motion may be more noticeable.  Avoid closed spaces such as cabins; fresh, moving air is better.
  • Remember to bring binoculars (7 x 35 or 7 x 50 are good for water use since the magnification isn't great enough to accentuate the shakiness of your hand or vessel), cameras (motion and still), film, and extra batteries. A telephoto lens is helpful. Although you may be excited to see your first whale, if you have a short lens the photograph will be disappointing unless the whale is very close. Remember to put your camera down at times so you can see more of the whales. Sounds are also important and a tape recorder is helpful to record the impressive sounds of the blows, tail lobbing, etc., and the excitement of fellow passengers. Some vessels carry extra film if you run out. 
  • Some vessels provide hot beverages, snacks and even meals. Check before you leave. If not bring along some snacks such as crackers.  Limiting the amount of fluids ingested may be helpful if you are prone to motion sickness.
  • Most vessels have marine toilets with the exception of inflatables and small open speed boats. Make sure you check how long you will be at sea if a marine toilet is not available.
  • If you want a record of where you saw whales, your captain may be able to provide latitude and longitude. Navigation equipment today is very accurate. Bring a small notebook so you can record this and other things about the trip. Most companies provide an information sheet upon which you can also make notes. If you have a hand held GPS, bring it along.
  • If you are travelling with children, bring some activities which can be done on a moving vessel. These may not be appropriate on vessels such as inflatables and small open speed boats. 
  • For any electronic equipment, protection from salt spray is critical.  Salt water will destroy equipment quickly.  Plastic zipable bags are very useful.  Do not spread the water around if your equipment does get sprayed but rather daub with absorbent cloths or pads and rinse with fresh water.  Equipment should always be cleaned after a trip at sea.
  • There may be times when very little appears to be happening.  Some like to bring books or headsets for music for these times but remember that things may happen quickly (such as a breaching basking shark) and your best opportunity to see these is if you are constantly on the lookout.
  • Remember that anything containing a magnet (such as cameras, headphones) should not be placed beside the ship's compass.  Some metal objects (such as cutlery) will also interfere. Back to top
Safe Boating
Ship safety is the responsibility of the captain and/or owner and is under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Coast Guard. Regulations vary depending on the size of the vessel, number of passengers, and area and time of operation. Most whale watching companies are licensed only for daylight cruises. 

Captains must have a Limited Masters Certificate, valid for five years. The minimum requirements for a Limited Masters is two months service on a ship of not less than five tons gross, a valid sight test, completion of a Marine Emergency Duties, Small Vessel Safety (MED A2) course, a valid Basic First Aid course, a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, at least 18 years old, medical certificate, proper examination of navigation, safety, etc. For larger vessels and number of passengers, a Limited Mate and an Engineer may be required. 
Vessels under 5 tons and twelve passenger or less are not regulated to the same degree, but must have sufficient number of life jackets, flares, fire extinguisher, etc. (the amount of safety equipment depends on the length of the vessel). 

It is your responsibility to become familiar with the location of life jackets and other safety equipment (fire fighting, first aid kit, safety flares). A safety demonstration should be included in the introduction. If it is not, please ask for one. Try a life vest on to make sure you are comfortable with how they should be worn. It is good practice to wear life jackets but most provided are uncomfortable. If you have your own that is comfortable, bring it along. All vessels should carry a sufficient number of children's life jackets as well but again it is a good idea to bring your own if you have them. Back to top

Watching Whales Without Harassment
The federal Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for ensuring the protection of marine mammals.  The Fisheries Act prohibits any form of harassment of cetaceans, including repeated attempts to pursue, disperse, herd whales and any repeated intentional act or negligence resulting in the disruption of their normal behaviour.  Individuals who contravene the Cetacean Protection Regulations are guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding $500,000 and twenty-four (24) lmonths of imprisonment (Fisheries Act art. 78).  Harassing whales changes or interferes with their behaviour, forces them away from their habitat at critical times in their annual feeding cycle or reproduction cycle and may cause them injuries.

Summary of Guidelines:These guidelines apply to recreational boaters and captains of sight-seeing boats. Their implementation helps to enforce the regulations.

  • Do not hunt, chase, follow, disperse, drive, herd or encircle the whales.
  • Avoid any sudden changes of course or speed and sudden stops in reverse speed.
  • Avoid heading directly toward a whale.
  • If in an area known to be frequented by whales, post a lookout to avoid collisions.
  • Travel parallel to whales.
  • The whales may come close to you: if they do, do not chase them. These animals may be calves that approach while their mothers are submerged feeding. Keep clear of the tail.
  • If you are operating a sailing vessel with an auxiliary motor, leaving it in idle or turn on the echo sounder to signal your presence.
  • If it is not possible to detour around a whale or group of whales, slow down immediately and wait until you are more than 400 m (1300') away before resuming speed.
  • Limit the time spent with a particular whale or group of whales.
Whale Harassment Incident Report
Definition of harassment "to worry, trouble, or torment; to trouble by repeated raids or attacks".  If you witness a whale harrassment, please print the ATTACHED FORM and complete to the best of your ability. If you can not print the form, copy down the information.
Please pass along this form to your local fishery officer or mail to:
Marine Mammal Co-Ordinator
Species at Risk Office
Bedford Institute of Oceanography
PO Box 1006
Dartmouth, NS Canada B2Y 4A2
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CODE of ETHICS for Bay of Fundy Water-based Tour Operators
The purpose of this code is to foster an environment of co-operation and trust among water-based tour operators for the protection and safety of the whales and other marine wildlife,  and the safety and understanding of their passengers. Tour operators agree to abide by this code for the protection and preservation of whales and the marine environment, and the education of their passengers and other boat operators. Adherence to this code demonstrates care and concern for whale conservation.

  • The first vessel to locate a whale or group of whales will have first viewing priority.  The vessel is under no obligation to announce the location of the whales to other operators. 
  • No more than two vessels will view a whale or group of whales at a time within 100m of the whale or group.  If the whales are travelling, the viewing vessels  will maintain a respectable distance to avoid herding the animals.
  • A maximum of 30 minutes will be spent viewing a whale or group of whales if more than two vessels are in the immediate vicinity.  Passengers will be informed that we are moving off to allow other vessels  to view the whale and that we must avoid crowding the animals and endangering their safety.  Motorised vessels will also take care not to crowd or endanger the safety of kayakers.
  • Any whale showing avoidance behaviour such as turning away or increasing speed will be left alone.
  • All operators will stand-by on a designated VHF radio channel for purposes of communication when one vessel  is viewing or waiting to view a more than whale or group of whales, and we will co-ordinate the selection of the channel with whale watch vessels  from other areas in the Bay of Fundy.
  • Vessels approaching another vessel already engaged in whale watching will contact that vessel  and arrange viewing priority.
  • A fair distance will be kept when waiting to view so as not to crowd the whale or viewing vessels .  While waiting tour operators will engage in other activities such as sea bird and seal viewing, or conservation education.
  • When vessels are stopping to listen for whale blows in the fog, as a courtesy other vessels in the immediate vicinity will do the same.
  • Vessels will cover different areas as much as possible so that not all vessels will be converging on the same location.
  • In the vicinity of fixed fishing gear whales will not be herded in the direction of the gear.
Definitions:  A vessel will be defined as either a motorised vessel or a kayak group.  A kayak group is defined as no more than 10 kayaks paddling in a co-ordinated group. Back to top

Pointers for Small Boats (including Kayakers) Near Whales

  • Remember that whales are wild animals,  should be treated with respect and given a wide berth.
  • Although whales are seldom aggressive unless provoked, their massive size can be inadvertently dangerous to small vessels.  If you are unsure of what the whale is doing it is best to keep your distance. 
  • When kayaking always stay in a group to prevent herding the whale and to increase personal safety.
  • Never aggressively approach a whale.  You may get more than you bargained for.
  • Make your presence known to the whale by simple tapping on the kayak or side of the boat.  Whales have very keen hearing and will detect slight noises unless preoccupied with other activities.
  • Always approach a whale from the side, never from behind.  A whale's most powerful part is its tail.  Whales are blind from behind or directly in front.  Their eyes are well below the water's surface.
  • Never deliberately paddle or motor over a whale.  If you startle the whale it will try to leave or see what is over it.  The pressure wave from the whale's movement can be dangerous.
  • If a whale surfaces under your kayak or small boat, stay calm and wait for the whale to set the vessel down.  Try to leave the area or head to shore if the whale persists.  Leave something at the surface to divert the whale's attention if necessary.  If you end up in the water, stay calm and wait for someone to pick you up or help you back in your boat.
  • Never move toward a whale active at the surface - lunge feeding, breaching, tail lobbing, flipper slapping.  The whale may not expect you to be there and accidents can happen.  Usually the whale is aware of your presence but it will be less cautious when engaged in active behaviours.
  • Do not approach a courtship group of right whales and be alert for whales leaving or joining the group.  Males can be very aggressive in large courtship groups and may regard you as a competitor.  Calves are sometimes involved in these groups and can get confused and breach unexpectedly.  Females will sometimes use objects, including boats, at the surface as part of the courtship "chase".
  • emain calm and quiet, unless a whale approaches without acknowledging your presence and you are in danger of collision.  Whales have keen hearing and do hear voices, paddle strokes, etc.
  • Never approach a "sleeping" whale, i.e. a whale lying quietly at the surface.  These should not be disturbed, and if awakened suddenly, may behave unexpectedly.

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Whale Watching Links
Grand Manan Tourism Site (available tours from Grand Manan)
New Brunswick Tourism (alphabetical listing of tours available in New Brunswick)
Whale watching in Nova Scotia Fundy area (Listing of some of the companies operating from Digby to Brier Island, NS)
Welcome to New Brunswick (whale tales and sounds)
Whale Watching Net (Global listing of whale watching companies)

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Page revised September 30 2006
GMWSRS 24 Route 776, Grand Manan, NB, E5G 1A1
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