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Rules and Codes of Conduct for Whale and Dolphin Watching in the Azores

50 metres – Approach limit to cetaceans
100 metres – Approach limit when whale calves are present
300 metres – Approach limit to dolphins when 3 or more boats are present
500 metres – Approach limit to whales when 3 or more boats are present

General Rules

1 - The rules under this and the following articles are applicable to all observation situations, regardless of species of cetacean being observed;

2 - The following rules must be observed:

a) Avoid producing noise in the proximity of animals that can either disturb or attract them;

b) Warn the maritime authorities when a dead or injured cetacean is seen or about any incident involving cetaceans.

3 - During the observation it is forbidden to:

a) Chase cetaceans;

b) Separate or isolate animals, especially calves from adults;

c) Feed cetaceans;

d) Scuba dive and use underwater scooters inside the approaching area;

e) Pollute the water with any solids or liquids;

f) Use SONAR, even outside the approaching area.

4 - Night observation is forbidden, except for scientific purposes.


1 – Any platform or swimmer is considered inside the approach area if it is within 500 metres of the closest animal

2 – During approach:

a) Keep a lookout for the movement of the animals around the platform;

b) Keep the boat parallel and slightly behind the animals, in a way that they have a 180º free area ahead of them;

c) Avoid sudden direction or speed changes;

d) Do not exceed the speed of the animals;

5 – It is strictly forbidden to:

a) Reverse the engine unless in an emergency;

b) Approach animals closer than 50 metres;

c) Approach animals with a sailing vessel just under sail (the use of an engine is mandatory).

6 - If the observed animals are agitated or show signs of stress the distance of the vessel must be increased accordingly;

7 - If is forbidden to intentionally approach sperm whale calves when they are alone at the surface.


1 – Time of permanence inside the approaching area is limited to a maximum of 30 minutes.

2 – Whenever the animals approach the vessel closer than 50 metres, the engine should be idled;

3 When the observation is finished or whenever the animals show signs of stress the vessels must exit the approaching area using the sector placed behind the animals;

4 - When there is more than one vessel inside the approaching area the following rules must be obeyed:

a) The permanence of more than 3 vessels in an area with a radius of 300 metres around an animal or group of animals is forbidden;

b) The vessels must be parallel to each other and positioned in a sector 60º behind the animals;

c) Approach maneuvers must be coordinated via radio by the first vessel entering the approach area to reduce impact on the animals’ behaviour;

d) The permanence of vessels in a radius of 500 metres around resting animals, females giving birth or immobilised animals is forbidden;

Swimming in the approach area

1 – Swimming with whales is strictly forbidden;

2 – The decision to put swimmers in the water and the distance from the animals is a responsibility of the captain of the vessel and must take into account the welfare of the animals and the swimmers;

3 – Vessels that have swimmers in the water must have a second crew member apart from the captain who is responsible to keep watch for the swimmers and animals ensuring their welfare;

4 – Each vessel is limited to three attempts of releasing swimmers. If the animals show signs of avoidance they must be left alone;

5 – The swimmers, always wearing snorkel equipment, and never in a number above two, must keep together in a radius of 50 metres around the vessel; intentional physical contact with animals is strictly forbidden; movements must be slow and noises avoided;

6 – Swimmers must not stay in the water with the animals for longer than15 minutes at a time;

7 – While there are swimmers in the water the engine must be idled;

8 – The recovery of the swimmers must be made with minimal disturbance to the animals, keeping a distance of at least 50 metres from them; 

Whales specific regulation

1 – It is forbidden to approach calves that are alone at the surface; when approaching adults with calves a minimal distance of 100 metres must be kept.

2 – When there is more than one vessel watching whales the following rules must be obeyed:

a) No more than 3 vessels may be inside an area 500 m around an individual or group of whales;

b) The precedence of observation is by arrival order to the approaching area or by the vessels' proximity to animals that surface at a distance within 500 metres from any given boat;

c) The vessels must be parallel to each other and within a sector 60º behind the animals;

d) Approach maneuvers must be coordinated via radio by the first vessel entering the approach area to reduce impact on the animals’ behaviour;

e) Each vessel can stay inside the approaching area of 500 metres for a maximum of 15 minutes, after which it must exit the area; during the same trip it cannot reapproach the same group of animals;

f) If the animal/s dive during the observation period of 15 minutes the observation period restarts but the vessel loses precedence over the others.

Audio-visual operations

1 –  Vessels supporting audio-visual crew must communicate their objectives to any other whale watching vessel that is operating in the area;

2 –  Audio-visual operation and tourist operation cannot simultaneously target the same group of animals; tourist vessels have priority over audio-visual operation, unless the objective of the audio-visual operation is to film or record the operation of the whale watching boats;

3 –  Audio-visual operation should be supervised by local nature guides and scientific personnel with proven experience in cetology;

4 –  The behaviour of the animals cannot be manipulated;

5 –  The final products must include a reference to the precautions taken to guarantee the welfare of the animals.


WCA Minimum Standards for Responsible Whale and Dolphin Watching





1 –  Publicise and use guidelines for safe approach to whales/dolphins Every boat must display a code of conduct / guidelines for how to approach marine mammals so that disturbance is kept to a minimum. Both the local codes of conduct / guidelines and the WCA Minimum Standards Guide (this document) must be displayed on all vessels in at least either English or the primary language of the country of operation. Customers should be made aware of these guidelines and where they are displayed before each trip begins and they must be available at all times. For those Operators chartering third-party vessels and/or using very small vessels such as rigid-hulled inflatable boats or kayaks, guidelines must be applied at all times during chartered trips. The guidelines and the WCA Minimum Standards Guide must be made available in a waterproof folder, with passengers made aware of how to access it at all times. In addition, both the local guidelines and WCA Minimum Standards Guide must be displayed on the Partner’s website, along with details of an independent WCA contact point for customers to provide feedback.

2 – Be valuable as a learning experience Trips should be inspiring and educational, providing customers with information about the animals’ behaviour and the environment they live in. Each boat should have at least one guide with a good knowledge of marine mammals. Each tour should include information on at least one issue of concern for cetaceans both locally and globally, with a positive action that guests can take to help.

3 – Meet the expectations of customers Each trip should provide customers with realistic information on what they are likely to see during the trip, and be clear on the rules they must follow to remain safe and respect cetaceans and the ocean at all times.

4 – Minimise any impact on the marine environment Excursions should actively seek ways to reduce their environmental footprint, and encourage passengers to think about how they can be more ‘green’ too.

5 – Emphasise research work undertaken or support for marine conservation efforts Guides should explain to customers how the business works collaboratively with other Partners to protect cetaceans and the oceans (for example through the WCA Partnership).

If you would like to comment on Futurismo Azores Adventure's compliance with the Minimum Standards for Responsible Whale and Dolphin Watching and local Whale and Dolphin Watching guidelines please contact the World Cetacean Alliance at

To find out more about the World Cetacean Alliance visit: