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Whale Watching Tips

Published on 1/8/2022


We are in whale season and while we love watching them from our canoes, please remember federal regulations prohibit approaching within 100 yards. Determining 100 yards at sea can be a challenge given there are usually no reference points to help gauge distance.  One simple technique to determine the distance to an object is to hold your arm straight out with your thumb pointed up. Now close one eye and try to use your thumb to block your view of the object. At arms length, the average thumb will block an object from your view that is about 12' wide at 100 yards.  An adult whale's tail width, length of pectoral fin, and 1/2 the distance from the dorsal fin to the nose are all about 12'.  So wait until you can see at least 12' of the whale, then put out your thumb and see if you can block your view of the whale.  If your thumb completely hides the whale, you are probably at least 100 yards away.  Otherwise you may be too close.  Note: if the whale is small or you can't see at least 12' of it, you'll be too close too.   

Now that you have a simple guide to determine distance, there are some other things you should avoid.  
  • First do not try to cut-off or paddle out in front of the whales so they have to "mug" you to get by.  
  • Do not get between escort and mother or mother and baby. 
  • Do not do anything to change their behavior or try to attract them to your canoe. 
  • Stay at least 300 yards away from competition pods if a baby is present. 
  • Lastly, it is recommended that the crew holds their paddles up while observing the whales. This alerts other canoes to the presence of a whale and that you are not bothering it.   


There are many people who are watching the whales from shore with binoculars or telephoto lenses. For them, it often appears we are much closer to the whales than 100 yards.  To solve this and provide a better horizontal distance measurement, expect the Hawaii Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement to monitor using drones from afar. As a result, you and your crew can be reported, cited, and potentially fined. 

It is the responsibility of the steersman and the crew to pay any fines associated with violating the 100 yard rule or influencing the behavior of the whales, and to defend themselves when accused of doing so. 

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