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Whale warning flags (U.S.)

Last modified: 2019-08-01 by rick wyatt
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[Whale warning flag] image by Ivan Sache, 23 June 2018

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Description of the flag

Airfield Vehicle Flag - Square, at least 3 x 3 feet, with an orange-and-white checkerboard pattern, to mark vehicles operating on airfields. [This flag is also used to mark temporary hazards to aviation, such as high construction cranes.]
Source: Army Regulation 840-10.
Joe McMillan, 27 May 2000

This is the international airports flag and not only the U.S. one.
Dov Gutterman, 28 May 2000

Airfield safety flags are used for marking construction vehicles and jobsite obstructions / hazards at airports.

Flags are recommended for use with the following site conditions:

  • Construction vehicles in the airfield operating area (crossing, on, or near runways / taxiways)
  • Job site hazards such as barricades, taxiways leading to closed runways, open manholes, on-site construction materials, or other related hazards. Flags should be stiffened for maximum visibility under these conditions with a maximum 20 ft. spacing.
  • Larger equipment (i.e. cranes, drilling rigs, lifts, etc). Flags should be stiffened under these conditions also, displayed every 50 ft. to the highest point (30 ft. recommended on closely grouped hazards).
Jan Mertens, 12 October 2007

San Juan County staff, the Marine Resources Committee, Soundwatch, Pacific Whale Watch Association, local Whale researchers, law enforcement, and interested citizen whale stewards are teaming up on a study that will pilot the use of a Whale Warning Flag throughout the county. The flag serves as a safety notification to other boaters on the water that whales are around.

The flag was first introduced around Northern Vancouver Island by the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association as a means of addressing the growing number of hazardous interactions between boats and humpback whales. This summer the same flag design will be used in a bid to promote and strengthen a consistent message of safe boater behavior around whales throughout British Columbia and Washington waters.

This year, 500 flags will be proved to trained boat captains, including whale watch, research and enforcement boats, as well as committed “whale steward” citizens and organizations with boats. Larger flags will be flown from land-based sites on the west side of San Juan Island such as the San Juan County Park, Lime Kiln Point State Park and the San Juan County Land Bank.

Flags will only be raised if whales are within 0.65 miles (1 km) of a boat or land-based site and will be taken down as soon as the boat or whales have moved out of the area.

The flag operates the same way as a diver-down flag. It notifies boaters that whales are in the area letting them know they should slow down and proceed with caution so they can comply with the “Be Whale Wise” guidelines and the laws.

For those on land wanting to launch, like kayakers and paddlers, the land-flags give additional warning that they should delay launching until the flag has been lowered.
The Journal of he San Juan Islands, 22 June 2018

Additional sources:
Official announcement and guidelines by the San Juan County Marine Resources Committee:
Official announcement and guidelines by NOAA Fisheries / West Coast Region:

Dedicated website on Southern Residents killer whales,
Ivan Sache, 23 June 2018