NOAA's national marine sanctuary offices and visitor centers are currently closed to the public, and in accordance with Executive Order 13991 - Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask Wearing, all individuals in NOAA-managed areas are required to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance on mask-wearing and maintaining social distances. Sanctuary waters remain open for responsible use in accordance with CDC guidance, U.S. Coast Guard requirements, and local regulations. More information on the response from NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries can be found on

See A Spout, Watch Out Program

sea a spout logo
The See a Spout logo has been incorporated into rack cards, posters and decals. Numerous organizations have signed on to this boating safety program.

See A Spout, Watch Out! An online whale watch boaters' education course. This program includes a brief, educational slide show (comprised of 18 slides) that offers five tips to encourage safe and responsible boating when in the vicinity of whales. We believe that this course benefits both the whales and the whale watchers.

In the summer of 1998, high-speed whale watch vessels in Massachusetts struck two whales, with one strike resulting in a fatality. As a result of these strikes, the Northeast Large Whale Implementation Team convened a Whale Watch Advisory Group (WWAG) consisting of members of the commercial whale watch industry, conservation groups, and representatives from NOAA Fisheries and the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS). These meetings resulted in NOAA Fisheries issuing new whale watch guidelines, as well as an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making (ANPRM) to solicit comments regarding the need for whale watching regulations in lieu of guidelines.

Although new whale watching guidelines were formulated, no mechanism for public outreach was incorporated to educate private boaters. As a result, a multi-phase program called "See A Spout, Watch Out" was developed as a cooperative outreach project of the International Wildlife Coalition (IWC) and the Sanctuary.

Phase one of this program targets boaters through boater safety classes conducted by Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotillas, the Massachusetts Environmental Police, the regional Power Squadrons, and other boating organizations. In addition, posters and tide-chart rack cards are being placed at strategic locations such as boating supply stores, yacht clubs, and marinas. The second phase of this program includes permanently fixed aluminum signs at boat ramps, fuel docks, and boat launches. Since the ANPRM was issued in January 2000 and NOAA Fisheries has not yet published a proposed rule, this program does not delineate specific regulations/guidelines but instead, uses catch phrases as guides to responsible vessel behavior around whales.

The Five Tips

1-See A Spout, Watch Out!

If you see a spout, or a tail, or a breaching whale, please slow down and post a lookout. Some whales dive 20 minutes or more searching for food. If you’ve seen one whale, many more could be close-maybe too close to your boat and its spinning propellers. Proceed cautiously!

2-Head On Is Wrong!

Don’t alter a whale’s path by cutting it off. When in sight of a whale, follow official guidelines and adhere to existing regulations that restrict or prohibit closely approaching whales. Always keep your boat a safe distance; don’t risk striking a whale. Federal law prohibits the harassment of all marine mammals. Federal NOAA Fisheries regulations and Massachusetts laws prohibit approaching the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale closer than 500 yards.

3-Lots Of Boats, Then Talk To Folks!

If there are other boats watching or traveling near whales, hail them on your VHF radio (channel 9 or 16) and coordinate your viewing efforts.

4-Avoid Trouble, Steer Clear of Bubbles!

Humpback whales sometimes feed by creating what are called “bubble clouds”. The whales blow bubbles below the surface of the water to confuse and condense schools of small fish. With mouths wide open, the whales surface through the middle of the bubble cloud engulfing large numbers of dazed fish. Bubble clouds look like light green, foamy patches on the surface of the water. Birds often hover over them to take advantage of the readily available fish. Never approach, or drive through, a bubble cloud as a feeding whale is likely to be just below the surface.

5-Don’t Chase, Give The Whales Space!

Closely approaching a whale may cause the animal to move away from its food source. Respect the whale’s behavior and keep your distance. If a whale moves away, don’t chase it. A cautious boater may bet to see whales feeding, playing or breaching. Enjoy the whales; don’t endanger them!


Phase One:

Phase one of "See A Spout, Watch Out" specifically targets Massachusetts boaters and includes a brief educational slide show with script for incorporation in boater safety courses. Information provided include: information about the Sanctuary, its importance as a seasonal feeding area for cetaceans, and five tips for proper boating behavior when in the vicinity of whales. Decals, tide-chart rack cards, and registration cards are given to course participants. Registration cards will provide feedback regarding the program and help in contacting participants for a follow up assessment of this program. Current estimates indicate that more than 5,000 safe boating course participants are likely to receive this information in 2001.

Additionally, four-color posters, and rack cards will be placed at marinas, yacht clubs, and boating supplies stores. The tide-chart on the back of the rack card is a means to encourage boaters to keep the "tip card" on their vessel while the poster will serve as visual reinforcement.

Funding for phase one of this program came from the Dolphin Trust.

Phase Two:

The goal of phase two of this program is to target Massachusetts residents and transient boaters through the placement of permanently affixed signs at boat ramps, fuel docks, and launch services. The 18" x 24" vinyl-coated, black and white, aluminum signs contain the five tips outlined above, but also contain stronger language and notification that federal/state laws prohibit approaches to right whales.

Additional funding and support for phase two came from the Center for Coastal Studies, the Cetacean Society International, the Humane Society of the United States, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Massachusetts Environmental Police, and the Plymouth Marine Mammal Research Center.

For additional information, questions, or comments concerning this program please contact:

Regina A. Asmutis-Silvia
Senior Biologist
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS)
70 East Falmouth Highway
East Falmouth, MA 02536
Ph/Fax: 508-830-1977



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