Whales and sailboats

From: Phillip J. Clapham (pclapham@whsun1.wh.whoi.edu)
Date: Mon Jan 15 2001 - 09:48:19 EST

You asked about whales colliding with boats and other related matters.
First, I should say that the chances of this happening are very, very
remote and I would suggest you tell your friends with the sailboat that
they're worrying unnecessarily. Reports of whales colliding with sailboats
are very rare and some of them are clearly inaccurate (i.e. the boat
probably hit something else, like a container). Whales don't intentionally
hit boats for obvious reasons (it hurts them!), and are very good at
avoiding them. The color of the hull is probably irrelevant since a whale
will be cued in to the presence of the boat by sound before it sees the
boat. A sailboat under sail will be much quieter, of course, but the
chances of running into a sleeping whale in the middle of the ocean are
very remote.
The other question concerns how to behave if you encounter whales. The
answer is to not try to get too close to them, to try to stay behind them
(i.e. don't cut them off), and probably to turn on your engine (even just
in idle) to make sure they know you're there. Whales will get out of the
way as long as they know a boat's there, and they can easily directionalize
on the sound of the motor to do this. If a whale becomes curious and
actually approaches the boat (some do this), that's fine - they won't hurt
you. But in this case don't move until you're sure the whale is clear of
the boat (i.e. if you know the whale is somewhere close but dont know
where, don't move until you see it clear).

Phil Clapham

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