Guidelines for Paddling with Marine Wildlife

Published by Canoe & Kayak Magasine, Aug. 1996/B.C. Parks & Recreation Commission, 1997

By A. Michael Kundu, Director, Project SeaWolf

Never interfere with feeding, breeding or nursing activities
Whales perform very specialized prey-entrapment maneuvers; kayaks intruding on these patterns could prevent them from gathering the nutrients required for survival. Avoid any approach of females with young; in addition to stressing these animals, you might be interfering with critical nursing or calf-rearing activities.

Learn about your subject behaviour and biology
Before you paddle in any marine mammal habitat, learn to recognize stress-related behavioral signs, such as tail lopping, spy hopping, etc. Limit your presence to short intervals. Never put your curiosity in the way of these feeding or foraging activities -- the animal's survival depends on regular activities being allowed to continue uninterrupted and unhindered.

Avoid actively approaching cetaceans; Maintain your distance
Do not pursue or advance on cetaceans that are traveling toward you. Always allow your kayak to drift passively on a parallel course to where you expect them to pass. Whales almost always approach each other from the rear: frontal encounters may startle or alarm whales, who may not be able to detect a kayak's oblique design. Most marine biologists suggest maintaining a distance of 100 yards away from all species of whales.

Always warn any approaching cetacean of your presence
My practice, while photographing or observing an approaching group of orcas, is to sing or talk loudly at a steady rhythm. Another effective method is to maintain a sculling stroke, keeping the paddle blade moving well below the surface of the water. Always avoid startling any marine mammal, both for your sake and for that of the cetaceans.

Practice low-impact observation habits at all times
During the summer months, most migrating cetaceans spend 65% of their diurnal time feeding, and 25% of this time actively searching for food. The remaining interval is spent resting, replenishing energy and critical interaction with other whales: realistically, there is no spare time in their itinerary to avoid kayakers. If you do choose to intrude upon them, remember that cetaceans should never be encroached upon by more than two kayaks at a time. It is crucial that paddlers remember to follow all federal regulations regarding marine mammals.

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Michael Kundu, Founder & Director of Project SeaWolf

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