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Humpback Whales Crowding Waters In Glacier Bay National Park, Ships Ordered To Slow Down


A reduced speed limit has been ordered for cruise ships in Glacier Bay due to a high number of humpback whales. NPS map

It sounds like a great time to be in Glacier Bay National Park whale watching. Park officials have ordered cruise ships to reduce their speeds due to "extremely high humpback whale densities."

The park did not, however, define what those densities were.

Park Superintendent Susan L. Boudreau ordered the reduced speed limit for cruise ships in all current "whale waters" in Glacier Bay. A speed limit of 10 knots through the water applies to all cruise ships until further notice. The order took effect 5 a.m. Saturday morning.

The new speed restriction applies only to cruise ships (defined by park regulations Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations, Subpart N, 13.1102 as "any motor vessel of at least 100 tons gross (U.S. System) or 2,000 tons gross (International Convention System) certificated to carry more than 12 passengers for hire.") because of their limited ability to maneuver.

Other types of vessels may still travel at speeds up to 13 knots through the water, but they are reminded that park regulations state that "(T)he operator of a vessel inadvertently positioned within a quarter nautical mile of a humpback whale must immediately slow to 10 knots or less, without shifting into reverse unless impact is likely. The operator must direct or maintain the vessel on as steady a course as possible away from the whale until at least a quarter nautical mile of separation is established."

The park's whale protection regulations are designed to reduce whale disturbance and the risk of whale-vessel collision. The best available scientific information indicates that reducing speed is the best way to reduce the risk of whale-vessel collisions. A slower speed gives the whale more time to react and move out of the way of the vessel.

As shown on the attached map, current whale waters areas begin at the park boundary in Icy Strait, and extend through the Lower Bay to an imaginary line between Netland Island, Willoughby Island, and continuing due east of Boulder Island to the Beardslee Islands motorless waters boundary.

Vessels greater than 18 feet in length are restricted to a mid-channel course or one nautical mile offshore in the Lower Bay designated whale waters only. Boaters are advised to verify whale waters designations prior to entering Glacier Bay by telephoning (907) 697-2627 or by contacting KWM20 Bartlett Cove on marine VHF radio.


Slower transit means more time to enjoy. We live in the last/next port from Glacier Bay, depending on whether the ships are going up or back, and the tourists always remark on the magnificence of Glacier Bay. Now they'll also have more whale watching to add to their glacier watching.

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