Promoting responsible encounters with marine wildlife and their habitats in the national marine sanctuaries
Knowing how to interact with ocean wildlife can help you make
the right decisions when you encounter wildlife. Without paying
attention to how you interact in the marine environment, you are
running the chance of putting endangered species, federally protected
species, and thousands of other species lives at risk.
National Marine Sanctuary Program has partnered
with NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources
to pass on the message of Ocean Etiquette.
For more detailed links and a comprehensive look
at responsible marine mammal viewing go to the NMFS site here.
more about Ocean Etiquette through sanctuary regulations,
publications and messages.
Click here for links to their specific
Each time someone visits the marine environment they have the
wonderful opportunity to encounter wildlife. However, the
unfortunate potential to harm our marine life and resources exists
with every visit. Because we love our marine resources and
want you to appreciate them, the National Marine Sanctuary Program
see every visitor as a potential steward of our sanctuary resources.
The Ocean Etiquette program calls on each of you to take on that
responsibility. We have listed below a set of general marine
wildlife viewing guidelines. To learn more about the Ocean Etiquette
program and more specific guidelines and regulations pertaining
to activity, sanctuary, or species group follow our links.
Marine wildlife viewing guidelines
Learn before you go
Read about the wildlife, viewing sites and local regulations
to get the most from your wildlife viewing experience. Many species
live only in specific habitats such as estuaries, coral reefs,
sand dunes or the open ocean. Seasonal and daily cycles also influence
when and where an animal may be located. Research on the internet,
buy regional viewing guidebooks, talk with local residents and
hire local guides to increase your chances of seeing marine wildlife.
Keep your distance
Use binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras with zoom lenses
to get a closer look. Marine wildlife may be very sensitive
to human disturbance, and if cornered, they can harm the viewer
or leave the area. If wildlife approaches you, stay calm and slowly
back away or place boat engines in neutral. When closer
encounters occur, do not make sudden moves or obstruct the travel
path of the animals let them have the unhindered right
Never touch, handle or ride marine wildlife. Touching wildlife,
or attempting to do so, can injure the animal, put you at risk
and may also be illegal for certain species. The slimy coating
on fish and many marine invertebrates protects the animal from
infection and is easily rubbed off with a hand, glove or foot.
Avoid using gloves when diving or snorkeling to minimize the temptation
to touch. Remember, wild animals may bite, body slam or
even pull you underwater if startled or threatened.
Do not feed or attract marine wildlife
Feeding or attempting to attract wildlife with food, decoys,
sound or light disrupts normal feeding cycles, may cause sickness
or death from unnatural or contaminated food items, and habituates
animals to people. Habituated animals are vulnerable to vessel
strikes or vandalism, and can be dangerous to people.
Never chase or harass wildlife
Following a wild animal that is trying to escape is dangerous.
Never completely surround the animal, trap an animal between a
vessel and shore, block its escape route, or come between mother
and young. When viewing from a boat, operate at slow speed, move
parallel to the swimming animals, and avoid approaching head-on
or from behind, and separating individuals from a group. If you
are operating a non-motorized vessel, emit periodic noise to make
wildlife aware of your presence and avoid surprise.
Stay away from wildlife that appears abandoned or sick
Some marine animals, such as seals, leave the water or are exposed
at low tide as part of their natural life cycle -- there may be
nothing wrong with them. Young animals that appear to be orphaned
may actually be under the watchful eye of a nearby parent. An
animal that is sick or injured is already vulnerable and may be
more likely to bite. If you think an animal is in trouble, contact
the local authorities for advice.
Wildlife and pets don’t mix
Wild animals can injure and spread diseases to pets, and in turn,
pets can harm and disturb wildlife. For example, wild animals
recognize dogs as predators and quickly flee when they see or
smell dogs. If you are traveling with a pet, always keep them
on a leash and away from areas frequented by marine wildlife.
Lend a hand with trash removal
Human garbage is one of the greatest threats to marine wildlife.
Carry a trash bag with you and pick up litter found along the
shore and in the water. Plastic bags, floating debris and monofilament
line pose the greatest risk to wildlife.
Help others to become responsible wildlife watchers and tour
Speak up if you notice other viewers or tour operators behaving
in a way that disturbs the wildlife or other viewers, or impacts
sensitive habitats. Be friendly, respectful and discrete when
approaching others. When operating a boat, lead by example
and reduce your speed in areas frequented by marine wildlife,
anchor properly and encourage others to do the same. Violations
of the law should be reported to local authorities.
It's up to you!
Carry a few copies of these guidelines on your travels and share
them with others. When choosing a commercial tour operator, ask
if they follow these guiding principles and patronize those businesses
that do. After all, protecting and conserving marine wildlife
and habitats is everyone’s responsibility.
To download a copy of these guidelines, click