Best practice guidelines for marine mammal & sea turtle watching in Antigua
Developed using the 'Overarching Principles & Best Practice Guides for Marine Mammal Watching' in the WCR and other federally established Marine Mammal Watching Regulations.
There are several species of marine mammals and three species of turtels that visit Antigua's waters for feeding, mating, reproduction etc. In order to ensure the safety and continued presence of these animals, certain precautions should be taken to minimize human distrubance.
Close approaches by humans / vessels / aircraft can have very adverse effects on these animals, including:
- Serious injury to the animal or persons viewing.
- Aggressiveness from the disturbed animals.
- 'Too friendly' behaviour from these animals that can lead to other problems such as begging, injury etc.
- Disruption of important behaviours (mating, feeding etc).
To avoid any and all of these effects, here are some recommendations for all humans / vessels / aircraft engaging in contact with marine mammals and sea turtles:
Do not touch or feed the animals. They can become aggressive, unpredictable and possibly dependent on humans for food instead of hunting for themselves.
- When approaching any animal, approach only from the side and/or rear. Approach from the front can cause vessel strikes and serious injury.
- When viewing the animals, keep a safe distance. The overall recommended distance should be at least 50 meters / 164 feet. Increase this distance for mother / calf pairs.
Typical minimum whale distance = 50-250m / 164-820ft
Typical minimum dolphin and turtle distance = 30-100m / 100-328ft
- Leave boat engine on idle/drop sails when viewing the animals. When coming closer to the animals, the vessel should be going at a no-wake speed (5 knots max).
- Do not encircle, trap or disperse groups when viewing the animals. Always leave a clear exit path for the animals to move through.
- Generally, no more than 3 vessels / aircraft should e viewing the animals at a a time. Vessels / aircraft should coordinate and maintain radio contact at all times.
- Do not throw trash into the water (including food or bait), or carry out any activites that could cause the animal to approach.
- View the animals for only a short period of time. 30 minutes is the recommended duration for viewing any animal. Any longer can stress or other problems.
- Do not make any loud or sudden noises that could be transmitted underwater.
- Do not make sudden changes in direction and/or speed.
- When leaving the viewing area, determine exactly where the animal is, relative to your vessel, to avoid strikes or disturbances.
- Never place a vessel where it could drift into the animals.
- Any accident, problem or collision with animals should be documented and reported immediately.
Marine mammal and sea turtle watching can be fun and attractive, but can also be used for educations or research purposes, as well. When dolphins / whales / sea turtles are spotted, make sure to maintain the above mentioned safety guidelines and try to keep a record of your observations.
Here are some tips for frequent marine mammal / sea turtle spotters
- Keep binoculars handy. This allows you to make out specific details but also keep a safe distance from the animal.
- Keep a notebook or data sheet. Write down the type of animal, date, location, weather conditions, how many and many other relevant observations that could be used, later. (Marine and mammal watching data sheet can be viewed and downloaded here.)
- Take photographs. Pictures with camera / smartphone are one of the best ways to identify and keep track of animals; especially when i comes to whales and dolphins.
Any sightings and observations should be reported by radio on VHF channel 16 or records and send to the Antigua Conservations Society via Eli Fuller at 725.7263. or email@example.com. The information shared will be catalogued for research purposes. Your help and awareness is greatly appreciated.
Visit and join the facebook group the Antigua & Barbuda Whale and Dolphin Network, which is dedicated to being a library of sightings. This group includes photography, written logs from spotters and information about this type of recreation and tour.