New guidelines for Sailors -Safe Boating for Ocean Sailing Racers... and Whales

Two whales swim alongside a sailboat

Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) is delighted to announce that race crews of two open ocean sailing events will receive tips on safe sailing around whales. Coordinators for theMarblehead to Halifax Ocean Race and the Vineyard Cup, both launching in Massachusetts, have worked with WDC and its program partners to customize information specific to their race courses with an important message about protecting the safety of both sailors and marine life.

Biologists from WDC, Audubon Society of Rhode Island, and the New Bedford Whaling Museum, with input from US Sailing and Sailors for the Sea, have developed outreach materials for sailors through a program called “Sharing the Seas”. The goal is to ensure safe passage for sailors and marine life by providing captains and crew with information on the types and behaviors of marine mammals and sea turtles they may encounter, best practices when sailing through whale habitat, and important contact information to report sightings of entangled or injured marine life. This knowledge empowers sailors to utilize safe boating techniques to reduce disturbances and injury to whales and their crews.  

The North Atlantic is home to several endangered large whale species, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, whose population recently lost six individuals in just two weeks.  Preliminary results suggest that vessel collisions may have contributed to the deaths of at least two of the whales, with a third likely succumbing to an entanglement in fishing gear. Accidental collisions with boats of any kind can kill or injure a whale, as well as the vessel’s crew, and cause extensive damage to the vessel. Sailors can play a key role in preserving whales for future generations by recognizing signs that these ecosystem engineers may be nearby, taking measures to avoid a collision, and reporting animals who are entangled.

“In the last year, at least two sailors in open ocean races collided with whales during the competition and had to be rescued,” said Monica Pepe of Whale and Dolphin Conservation.  “We are hopeful that the information we have shared will help to keep everyone safe, and help sailors know what to look for while also encouraging them to report any sightings of whales in distress along their courses.”

The “Sharing the Seas” program provides electronic and print resources which use the acronym SAIL to remind sailors of four important steps:

·         Safe boating practices

·         Alert authorities to important sightings

·         Important information

·         Limit litter 

Components of the program include easy-to-remember tips for safe operation around whales, contact information for authorities in the event a whale or turtle is seen entangled or otherwise in distress, and easy tips to help keep the oceans clean by keeping debris out of the ocean. The customized information for each of the events will include maps of the race courses paralleled with the nearby important whale habitats.

“This information is critical to the safety of our racing crews as well as to marine life,” said Anne Coulombe, Co-Director of the Marblehead to Halifax event. “We thought it essential to include it in our skipper’s packets.”

The Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race is expecting about 100 race participants, and the Vineyard Cup expects around 80. Interested members of the public can visit either event’s website for more information or go to www.seeaspout.com/sail  to learn more about the Sharing the Seas program.