Humpback whales feed in Plymouth waters; boaters warned to keep 100 feet away for safety

·3 min read

PLYMOUTH – A feeding frenzy of whales off Manomet has produced a photo frenzy among boaters, prompting warnings for people to steer clear of the behemoths for safety’s sake.

Federal, state and local marine law enforcement agencies urged the boating public to stay at least 100 feet away from the whales as they feast on a dense school of fish off Manomet Point and White Horse Beach.

Officials warned that trying to capture the perfect photo of the whales could have dangerous and even deadly consequences, for man and beast.

“A lot of people get excited when they see the whales. They want to get a post on Instagram or other type of social media, which is all well and good, but they need to do that safely – obviously for their safety as well as the whales," Troy Audyatis, special agent for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's law enforcement division, said. "These are 40-ton animals and small fiberglass boats is never a good combination.”

Whale breaching
Whale breaching

More whales: Whale jumps on boat in Plymouth: What to know as harbormaster issues safety warnings

Whale info: Whale and Dolphin Conservation whale sighting information

Officials held a  news conference at the Plymouth Maritime Facility on Friday morning to educate the public about the dangers of getting too close to the whales. The officials urged boaters to use common sense and watch from a safe distance.

The meeting was prompted by recent incidents in which some boaters ventured too close to three juvenile humpback whales that had been feeding in the area for the last 10 days. One of the whales lunged out of the water and onto the front deck of a boat while chasing a school of fish. Environmental police are investigating the incident, which was captured on video cameras by many people, including passengers on the boat.

“The interaction we’ve seen recently jeopardizes the safety of everyone involved,” Regina Asmutis-Silvia, director of Plymouth-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation, said. “We’re very concerned about the human safety.”

The humpback whales spotted off Manomet have been engaged in lunging, a form of feeding in which the whales corral small bait and then engulf them as a whole.
The humpback whales spotted off Manomet have been engaged in lunging, a form of feeding in which the whales corral small bait and then engulf them as a whole.

Federal, state and local agencies are patrolling the feeding area to help keep boaters and the whales safe.

Audyatis said law enforcement will engage any boaters who do not seem to understand the rules.

If necessary, law enforcement could employ the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which offers protection to whales. The law recognizes two levels of harassment: Level A, which causes injury or death to a whale, and Level B, which interferes with a whale’s behavior.

Violations carry civil penalties of up to $11,000 in fines, imprisonment for up to one year and forfeiture of the boat. Audyatis said no violations have been found in the recent incidents, and he urged people to use common sense to stay safe.

Visiting whales increasing

While the number of whales visiting Plymouth’s coastline has increased in recent years, the current feeding frenzy is somewhat unusual, said Bob Glenn of the state Division of Marine Fisheries.

The whales are feeding on pogies, which are rich in oil and the perfect food for whales trying to stock up on fat for the coming winter.

For reasons that are still unclear, the pogies are schooling in abundant numbers just off shore. Glenn said such concentrations of fish could disappear at any moment, taking the whales with them.

Asmutis-Silvia warned boaters to be particularly aware of so-called bait boils, rising cauldrons of schooled fish that look like rain on the water. “That’s an indication where the whales are going to come up,” she said.

She advised boaters to put their boats in neutral and wait until whales pass if one ventures close to them.

Environmental police Lt. Col. Patrick Moran said patrols have been seeing between 100 and 200 boaters in the area a day on weekdays.

This article originally appeared on wickedlocal.com: Boaters urged to stay clear of whales off Manomet Point in Plymouth