Authorities in Massachusetts are cautioning boaters and personal watercraft users to be careful in the ocean waters near Plymouth, where three juvenile humpback whales have been feeding for at least a week.

While many have been gathering to take photos of the whales from shore, people have also taken to bringing their boats as close as they can get, and it creates the possibility of disturbing the whales and possibly endangering them.

The Massachusetts Environmental Police and the Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Marine Fisheries issued a release stating that the feeding behavior of the young whales is “very unpredictable” while feeding in shallow areas on menhaden, or “pogies.” They said a combination of shallow water, approaching boaters and the young age of the whales may increase that unpredictable behavior.

That is why they are urging caution when boaters, kayakers, paddleboarders and others enter into the area where these whales may be feeding.

“A collision with a vessel or personal watercraft can cause damage to the vessel, physical injury to the whale, and potential serious injury or death to humans involved,” the release stated.

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It is recommended that anyone in a vessel or personal watercraft stay at least 100 feet from whales.

via Mass. Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
via Mass. Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs

The release also points out that under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to harass whales.

“Harassment includes any act of pursuit, torment or annoyance that can injure or disrupt the feeding behavior of the animal,” the release stated.

The Plymouth Harbormaster, the MEP and the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Office of Law Enforcement will be patrolling the waters off Plymouth Harbor to ensure the whales and mariners alike are kept safe.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offers up some guidelines when it comes to boating around whales, including tips such as operating at no-wake speed around them and not approaching them head-on.

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