Subject: Re: ask the scientist

Greg Early (
Fri, 16 Oct 1998 12:46:02 -0400

At 07:36 AM 10/15/98 EDT, you wrote:
>My question is: what are you guys going to do to prevent people from "loving
>the whales to death"?  (e.g. recent whale killing by whale watch boat from


You have an interesting point.  Years ago, "loving" marine mammals probably
meant loving the products you could get from marine mammals...fur from
seals...meat and oil from whales.  While an appreciation of marine mammals
for their own sake would seem to be far better, incidents like this show
some of the downside from this new "love" of marine mammals (particularly
in this country).  The organization I work for has a mission to "preserve,
promote and protect the world of water"  and doing all three at once is not
always as simple as it might sound.  What we do,though, is work actively to
do research to find facts that can help answer questions, run programs that
can get the message out to people and get interested groups together to
work out solutions to really tough problems (like the one you are talking
about). Examples of the things we do and have done range from running
forums to work through problems associated with people's growing
interactions with seals, to running a stranding program providing expert
care for marine mammals stranded along our shores (so sick and injured
seals, whales and dolphins are not simply thrown back in the ocean, by well
meaning people), to educational programs that educate people that find seal
pups on shore not to take them home because they appear abandoned (to name
a very few... check our web site for a bunch more).

As for whale watching, we have been active in the whale watch captains
association that establishes guidelines for whale watch boats to follow and
our boat follows these guidelines.  As you may know the National Marine
Fisheries Service (NMFS) has created guidelines and is charged with
enforcing the MMPA that protects whales.  Captains associations worked with
NMFS to set guidelines and often set higher standards of their own.  One of
the problems, however is  enforcing regulations and commercial captains are
in the best position to see that the guidelines are followed.  Remember
commercial whale watching boats are not the only boats in these areas.
Pleasure boats outnumber the commercial boats, and whales are far more at
risk from some knucklehead drinking beer and buzzing the whales, than from
a well run whale watch trip with a few hundred passengers on board watching
every move the boat makes.  If something goes wrong on a whale watch,
hundreds of people will know and report it, if a pleasure boat does
something wrong, there may be no one to see, or report it.  Bottom line is
if you want to watch whales, the best thing you can do is do it on a well
run commercial trip.  Make sure the company posts and follows the NMFS regs
and belongs to one of the local captains organizations.  As it has been
some time since my whale watch guide days I'm including an e-mail post from
someone who has been leading trips for years. (You can check the MARMAM
listserv for more discussion on whale watching)




Forwarded message:

I organized my first whale watch excursions in 1978, and took my first boat
load of passengers to Stellwagen Bank in 1979.  I have not missed a season
since.  That gives me a fairly decent historical perspective on the New
England whale watching industry.

Since the mid-1980s, the numbers of whale watching vessels using the Bank, as
well as the sizes and speeds of those vessels, have not appreciably changed.
If a whale watch vessel strikes a whale, there will be a rapid and predictable
reaction.  Most whale watch vessels carry 100-200 passengers.  Obviously then,
news of the strike will not be a secret, and may be in the media even before
the vessel reaches its dock. That probably would not be the case with most
other vessels.  Speed limits on all vessels, no matter how tantalizing and
well meaning that may be, are pointless without enforcement.  And everyone who
actually spends time on Stellwagen Bank knows that the idea is pointless.

Nina Young may suggest revisiting the issue of regulations. I suggest that
Ms.Young visit Stellwagen Bank.  The diversity and numbers of vessels
traversing Stellwagen Bank, day and night, day after day, month after month,
traveling at various speeds is uncontrollable.  Whale watch vessels are an
easy, attractive and pointless target.  Regulatory zealots, in search of a
grand headline, may relish regulating 15-20 whale watch boats, and then leave
untouched the tankers, freighters, tugs and barges, countless private boats,
sport fishing boats, cigarette boats, commercial fishing boats, cruise ships,
naval armadas, container vessels, etc., etc., ad nauseum, that we, who
actually spend time on the Bank, observe on a daily basis.

If someone actually has an inclusive, funded and practical program, I believe
that we would all like to see it.

Scott Mercer, New England Whale Watch, Inc.

Greg Early
Edgerton Research Laboratory				
New England Aquarium
Central Wharf
Boston, Mass 02110
617-973-5246 (phone)
617-723-6207 (FAX)