Whale Watching - impact on the whales

From: Erich Hoyt (erich.hoyt@virgin.net)
Date: Wed Apr 09 2003 - 11:45:42 EDT

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    From: CherlyJn@aol.com
    To: erich.hoyt@virgin.net, pita@whale.wheelock.edu
    Subject: Whale Watching - impact on the whales
    Date: Wed, Apr 9, 2003, 3:04 PM


    I am writing a case study for my college project about the impact of tourism
    on whales..ie.whale watching.

    I have come accross some examples of operators claiming their eco-friendly
    tours.but cannot find anything on any proved effects on the animals....I am
    aware of sound problems and possible effects on their breeding habits, but
    cannot find anywhere to qualify these effects. Also can you tell me where I
    can find a good example of legislation covering whale watching practices...

    Thanks for any assistance for my project....
    Cheryl Jones (U.K.)

    Dear Cheryl,

    At the 1995 Workshop on the Scientific Aspects of Managing Whale Watching
    (IFAW, Tethys, Europe Conservation), which I attended in Italy, we separated
    whale watching impacts on whales and dolphins into short term and long term.
    There is plenty of evidence in a wide variety of papers and reports that
    short-term disturbance occurs - whales visibly reacting to boats coming too
    close. But there is very little on long-term impacts on whales. In fact we
    could find no conclusive proof that whale watching harms whales - reduces
    their reproductive rate or their fitness, or drives them from key feeding or
    breeding areas. The only exception to this was a special case in Monkey Mia,
    Australia, where the dolphins that were hand-fed by tourists were shown to
    have lower reproductive rates than the rest of the population. We
    recommended that this feeding be stopped, and indeed that it not be done
    anywhere else in the world (there are a few other places).

    There are of course other reasons why whale watching should be regulated
    even if you cannot show that it does long term harm to whales. The main
    thing is that we are operating in the dark, with large numbers of boats in
    some areas spending large amounts of time with the same whales day in and
    day out. In some cases, such as in the Canary Islands, or southern Vancouver
    Island, Canada, the whales may be spending large parts of their day on a
    year-round or nearly year-round basis with boats of whale watchers. Thus the
    1995 workshop and other meetings since then have advocated a precautionary
    approach in the absence of hard data.

    Other reasons for regulating whale watching include the idea of protecting
    the special quality of the experience for the participants. In the Canary
    Islands and off southern Vancouver Island, the whale watch participant may
    be spending most of the time watching other boats, rather than actually
    seeing the whales. It is not unusual to have 40 or 50 boats in the general
    vicinity of a group of whales, all vying for a look. This degrades the
    experience. I believe that even if all these boats are not disturbing the
    whales, if people on the boats perceive that they are, then this in itself
    is a strong reason for regulating.

    In terms of legislation about whale watching, the International Whaling
    Commission (IWC) has a compilation of whale watch regulations from around
    the world which was gathered by Carole Carlson of IFAW. Go to
     IFAW (www.ifaw.org) also has a number of reports on whale watching that can
    be downloaded. There is also considerable information on whale watching on
    the www.wdcs.org website. I will also be happy to send you the report of
    our workshop in Italy, and some other information, if that would be useful
    (give me your address please).


    Erich Hoyt

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