Whale Watching Guidelines


Check the rules and codes of conduct for the observation of whales and dolphins in the Azores.


1) On this page, check 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:

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

  • Chase cetaceans;
  • Separate or isolate animals, especially calves from adults;
  • Feed cetaceans;
  • Scuba dive and use underwater scooters inside the approaching area;
  • Pollute the water with any solids or liquids;
  • 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:

  • Keep a lookout for the movement of the animals around the platform;
  • Keep the boat parallel and slightly behind the animals, in a way that they have a 180º free area ahead of them;
  • Avoid sudden direction or speed changes;
  • Do not exceed the speed of the animals;

3)  It is strictly forbidden to:

  • Reverse the engine unless in an emergency;
  • Approach animals closer than 50 meters;
  • Approach animals with a sailing vessel just under sail (the use of an engine is mandatory).

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

5)  It 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 meters, 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:

  • The permanence of more than 3 vessels in an area with a radius of 300 meters around an animal or group of animals is forbidden;
  • The vessels must be parallel to each other and positioned in a sector 60º behind the animals;
  • Approach maneuvers must be coordinated via radio by the first vessel entering the approach area to reduce impact on the animals’ behaviour;
  • The permanence of vessels in a radius of 500 meters around resting animals, females giving birth or immobilised animals is forbidden;


1)  Swimming with whales is strictly forbidden;

2)  The decision to put swimmers in the water and the distance from the animals is the 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 meters 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 meters from them;


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:

  • No more than 3 vessels may be inside an area of 500 m around an individual or group of whales;
  • 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 meters from any given boat;
  • The vessels must be parallel to each other and within a sector 60º behind the animals;
  • Approach maneuvers must be coordinated via radio by the first vessel entering the approach area to reduce impact on the animals’ behaviour;
  • Each vessel can stay inside the approaching area of 500 meters 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;
  • If the animal/s dive during the observation period of 15 minutes the observation period restarts but the vessel loses precedence over the others.


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

As Featured In

awards partners futurismo azores
Close Menu
Trip Advisor