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Cetacean Protocol - 509/2021

July 07, 2021

Cetacean Protocol


The Department of the Environment would like to remind all boat users of the need to be vigilant whilst navigating in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW and to respect marine wildlife by keeping a safe distance at all times and not interfering with any animals. Reports of migrating Fin Whales, for example, are a now common occurrence in BGTW during this time of the year when these majestic animals are seen making their way out of the Mediterranean towards their feeding grounds in the North East Atlantic Ocean. These sightings highlight the importance of our waters as a migratory corridor, not just for whales, but for a variety of marine wildlife such as turtles, sunfish, sharks and seabirds.


All whales and dolphins are protected in Gibraltar under the Nature Protection Act and Gibraltar's Cetacean Protocol introduced in 2014. Under these laws, the following conditions must be strictly met by boat users at all times:


  1. The free movement of cetaceans must be permitted in all directions by not intercepting their trajectory, cutting across their path, navigating towards or in close proximity to them.
  2. Vessels are required to maintain a distance of 300 metres from any dolphin or whale if there are adults with young animals. The Protocol also establishes a 500 metre radius from the animals within which vessels are only allowed to travel at no more than 4 knots or no greater than the slowest animal in the group. Under no circumstances must a vessel get closer than 60 meters unless in an emergency situation.
  3. If whales or dolphins approach or appear within 60m of a vessel, the engine will be placed in neutral or stopped if possible.
  4. Further information on the Cetacean Protocol can be obtained from the Department of the Environment's Thinking Green website


Loggerhead turtles are also strictly  protected and also occur regularly during this period when the animals are observed foraging or migrating towards the Atlantic Sea. Some of them can reach as far as the Caribbean and North America. They may sometimes be seen floating motionless on the surface basking in the sun. This behaviour is normal in Loggerhead turtles and the public is reminded not to touch or disturb the animals in any way.


The Department would once again take this opportunity to remind boat users that the Environmental Protection & Research Unit will be closely monitoring vessel activity to ensure that the requirements of the Cetacean Protocol are met. Any contraventions of the Protocol or the Nature Protection Act will be investigated and may result in legal proceedings being initiated against the skipper of offending vessels. The Department's Environmental Protection and Research Unit should called immediately on 58009620 if any animals are being disturbed or in distress.