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Know the Law


Thank you for your interest in understanding the issues that face marine life in the areas that Shore Divers frequent.  The delicate balance of nature that sustains life along our most beautiful stretches of coast literally rests in your hands.  Please take a moment to read about the protection of this balance, and forever remain aware that in every dive you are the steward of this protection.

To learn more, click on one of the following, or page-down to browse. 

The Responsibilities of NOAA Fisheries

The Laws

The Responsibilities of the Shore Diver

The Responsibilities of NOAA Fisheries

Many marine animals protected by federal law, such as whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and many stocks of salmon, are affected by fisheries and other human activities, as well as by environmental change.  NOAA Fisheries seeks to reduce the impacts of these activities on protected species while ensuring the viability of valuable  fisheries.  In fact, NOAA Fisheries is a major force in protecting marine species around the globe.

Coastal habitats, such as estuaries and reefs, provide food and shelter for marine and anadromous fish and shellfish during important stages of their life cycles.  NOAA Fisheries monitors threats to these fragile ecosystems by monitoring development, water and sediment contamination, water diversion for industrial agriculture, sedimentation, and dredging and filling activities.  The agency is a major force in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems by leading research to restore and create fish habitat, reviewing coastal development and water projects that may alter or destroy habitat, and recommending measures to offset development and use impacts.


The Laws

Laws have been written to remind us that we have a responsibility to constructively coexist with other species on our planet.  Remember that your seemingly inconsequential actions as a shore diver (when multiplied by 2 million divers in the U.S. alone) can have devastating effects.  Please take a moment to review your responsibilities.

Marine Mammal Protection Act protects whales, dolphins,  seals and sea lions.

National Marine Sanctuaries Act provides added protection of resources to special areas designated as National Marine Sanctuaries, such as the Florida Keys and Monterey Bay.

Endangered Species Act protects species such as sea turtles and salmon. There are two classifications under which a species may be listed.

  • Species determined to be in imminent danger of extinction throughout all of a significant portion of their range are listed as "endangered." 

  • Species determined likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future are listed as "threatened."

Further, distinct populations may be listed even if a species is abundant in other portions of its range. The criteria for endangerment must be based solely on biological evidence and the best scientific and/or commercial data available. Moreover, additions or deletions may be proposed by anyone who presents adequate evidence of the endangered status of a species.

For more information on specific species, please click on one of the following:

Cetaceans: Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises

Sea Turtle Protection and Conservation

Pinnipeds - Seals and Sea Lions


The Responsibilities of the Shore Diver

Viewing Wildlife
Who doesn't get a thrill from watching a dolphin jump through the waves on a summer day? Or a sea lion sun itself on a windswept rock? Or experience a feeling of serenity in watching the migration of majestic whales along the coast?

Who hasn't wanted, at least once, to get even closer to these marine mammals - to join in their antics, to become part of their habitats, to respond to their apparent calls for human contact?

Why shouldn't we? Because our every action can affect their behavior and thus their future survival!

You can make a difference when viewing marine wildlife.  Please review these guidelines and make the "Responsible Viewing Guidelines" personal practice.  Bring binoculars along on viewing excursions to assure a good view from the recommended viewing distances.  By being aware of the steps to responsible marine mammal and sea turtle viewing, you can help reduce the potential to inadvertently harm these animals or violate federal or state law.

NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Marine Sanctuaries, and the State of Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources provide the following guidelines for viewing whales, dolphins, monk seals and sea turtles.

Together we can ensure marine wildlife viewing will be as rewarding as it is today for many generations to come!

Responsible Viewing Guidelines

Keep a safe distance - Please do not chase, closely approach, surround, swim with, or attempt to touch marine wildlife.

For humpback whales in Hawaii, federal regulations prohibit approaching closer than:
- 100 yards (90 m) when on the water
- 1000 feet (300 m) when operating an aircraft

For other species of whales, dolphins and monk seals, the recommended distance for observation is:
- 50 yards (45 m) when on the beaches or on the water
- 1000 feet (300 m) when operating an aircraft

Use extra caution in the vicinity of mothers and young and in other sensitive wildlife habitat such as feeding, nursing or resting areas.

For sea turtles, please remember that feeding, touching, or attempting to ride them can cause distress.  Please observe from a distance and allow them a clear escape route to deeper water.  Limit your viewing time to 1/2 hour.

Never entice marine wildlife to approach you, nor should you ever feed the animals.

When on or under the water, please remember that the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is there to protect humpback whales.  Disturbing the whales can disrupt vital calving, nursing and breeding behaviors.

For more information on safely viewing wildlife,
please click here.

Diving with Wildlife
There is nothing more exhilarating than finding yourself underwater, sharing the same swimming environment as a marine animal.  You must ensure, however, that your actions do not cause a change in the behavior of the animal you are observing.  Since an individual animal's reactions will vary, carefully observe all animals and leave the vicinity if you see the following signs of disturbance.

For Whales and Dolphins:

Much of the disturbance for these animals is related to the direct pursuit of from underwater sound produced by a vessel's engines and propellers.  Ensure that your presence does not disturb them.

Cautiously move away if you observe any of the following behaviors:

- Rapid changes in swimming  direction and speed.
- Erratic swimming patterns.
- Escape tactics.
- Female attempting to shield a calf.
- Sudden stop in important breeding, nursing, feeding or resting activities after your arrival.

For Sea Turtles:

Sea turtles are found most often in shallow coral reef areas where you will be diving.  Enjoy their underwater grace and beauty, but do so from a distance.  Please remember that sea turtles are relatively slow swimmers and require air to live.  If you see them rising to the surface, give them room to replenish their air supply.  Ensure that your presence does not disturb them.

Cautiously move away if you observe any of the following behaviors:

- Sudden awakening from a sleep-like state on the seafloor.
- Movement away from the disturbance.
- Increase in swimming speed.
- Dive toward deeper water.

For Hawaiian Monk Seals:

Hawaiian monk seals are the only pinniped species endemic to the Hawaiian Islands.  They are one of the most endangered marine mammals species in the world.  Hawaiian monk seals hauled out on sandy beaches are sensitive to human presence.  Ensure that your presence does not disturb them by observing them from at least 100 feet (30 m).  In the ocean, monk seals may exhibit inquisitive behavior.  Do not attempt to approach these seals or "play" with them.  The seals may misinterpret your actions and could cause serious injury.  Cautiously swim back to shore or your boat and watch them from a safe vantage.

Cautiously move away if you see the following behaviors:

- Rapid movement away from the disturbance and toward the water.
- Sudden awakening from sleep on the beach.
- Female attempting to shield a pup.
- Vocalization or "growling" at the disturbance.

Strandings occur when marine mammals or sea turtles swim or float into shore and become "beached" or stuck in shallow water. In 1999 alone, more than 3000 marine mammals stranded on U.S. shores. In most stranding cases, the cause of the stranding is unknown, but some identified causes have included disease, parasite infestation, harmful algal blooms, injuries due to ship strikes or fishery entanglements, pollution exposure, trauma, and starvation. While the majority of stranded animals are found dead, some animals strand alive and in a limited number of cases it is possible to transport these individuals to regional rehabilitation centers for care.  In rare cases, successfully rehabilitated animals are returned to the wild. 

For more information on how you can help stranded animals, please click here.


NOAA Fisheries: Sustaining, Protecting and Rebuilding Our Nation's Living Oceans

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