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Pilots: Know Before You Go!

Introduction | FAQ | Overflight Regulations | Why Fly Higher
Olympic Coast | Channel Islands | Monterey Bay | Gulf of the Farallones

Why Fly Higher?

Direct flyovers or multiple passes over sensitive wildlife areas can harm wildlife and be unsafe for pilots. These overflight prohibitions pertain to all aircraft, including both rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft.

The recommended best operating practice is to ALWAYS fly at least 2000 feet AGL over ALL National Marine Sanctuaries, coastal areas, and other sensitive environments. This protects both the pilot and the wildlife.

seabirds feeding
(Photo: Ron LeValley)
Successful breeding is critical for seabird populations. Seabirds have low reproductive rates and are susceptible to climate variability, prey availability and oceanic conditions. Seabirds form dense breeding colonies on offshore rocks, isolated sea stacks, islands and steep mainland cliffs. These areas are relatively void of land predators. However, low flying aircraft disrupt seabird nesting activities and cause adults to flee from and abandon their nests, which can break and knock eggs from the nest, or leave eggs and chicks exposed to predators. Monitoring data has shown that high levels of disturbance, including frequent mild disturbances or a single severe event, can cause complete breeding failure of a seabird colony, and/or result in colony abandonment.

Marine Mammals
sea lions
(Photo: Ron LeValley)
Marine mammals react negatively to low-flying aircraft. Circling or multiple passes are disruptive to the natural behavior of marine mammals. Whales that are milling or resting at the surface are most sensitive. When possible, a single pass is recommended. Seals and sea lions haul out on intertidal ledges, beaches and rocky inlets to nurse their pups, heal wounds and rest. Low overflights can frighten marine mammals into the water. During pupping season, low flying aircraft can cause a mother and pup to become separated which can lead to starvation for the pup, or result in stampedes which may cause trampling and death.

Protect wildlife, stay safe, and stay within the law
The use of aircraft to harass any bird, fish, or other animal is also prohibited through the Airborne Hunting Act (16 USC 742j1). The NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has worked with the Department of Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to successfully prosecute aircraft pilots that disturb seabirds and marine mammals by flying below required altitudes.

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Revised June 21, 2013 by Sanctuaries Web Team | Contact Us | Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service
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