Subject: Swimming with whales

Dagmar Fertl (Dagmar.Fertl@mms.gov)
Tue, 13 Apr 1999 12:51:22 -0400

     My name is Niels Sonderby. I'm 33 years of age  - and an experienced 
     CMAS scuba diver from Denmark. For all my life I have had one major 
     dream; to go diving/swiming with whales.
     
     At this point I've been doing some very interesting dives among 
     tropical fish, turtles, sharks and dolphins "in" The Virgin
     Islands, Thailand, Malaysia, The Seychelles, Israel and The 
     Mediterranean Sea.(And of course a lot of coldwater diving in Denmark) 
     I'm not even close to be a marinebiologist - but, for all my life, 
     I've felt very strong interest/solidarity with the mammals in the big 
     blue. And for many years I've done a lot of studying on these "my 
     relatives".
     
     I do know that diving with whales is not a "tourist thing", and that 
     socializing with animals at this size is something to be very carefull 
     with. But I'm ready to put a lot of work and "pay the price" for 
     outliving this dream. Please tell me what to do, whom to call or where 
     to go...
     Thank You so much
     **************************************
     Niels,
     
     I know you sent your message directly to Joseph Roman, but since I'm 
     the WhaleNet scientist currently, he has forwarded your message to me.
     
     As a marine mammal biologist, I cannot endorse swimming with whales.  
     There are a number of 'ecotourism' type trips that you can pay to go 
     on that will give you such an opportunity, and that information can 
     easily be found in dive magazines and by searching on the Internet.  
     Swimming with whales can be very dangerous, as evidenced by a pilot 
     whale that grabbed a lady by the thigh and dragged her well below the 
     ocean's surface.  Whales could potentially hurt a diver with a mere 
     tail swish.  Many large whales are very sensitive to human disturbance 
     and get very stressed when approached by people trying to get closer 
     looks at them with boats and by diving with them.  Particularly 
     distressing are the situations where people dive in tropical waters 
     with humpback whales on their breeding grounds, where they are with 
     their young calves.  This is stressful for the moms, and might make 
     them leave the safe, shallow waters nearshore and make them move into 
     deeper waters where they can encounter surface-active males, as well 
     as possible predators.
     
     There are also a number of places where you can swim with free-ranging 
     dolphins in the wild, as you know.  This cannot be done in US waters, 
     since it is against the law to swim with a wild whale or dolphin.  
     There is a diver-friendly group of dolphins in the Bahamas...you've 
     probably seen them on film, since they are well-known.  There are also 
     places to swim with dolphins in places like New Zealand and Japan.  
     Again, your best bet is to check dive magazines and the Internet.
     
     I don't mean to be a party pooper, but this is an activity that 
     changes the natural behavior of whales and dolphins, and can possibly 
     stress the animals.  We do not want whales and dolphins to be so 
     trusting of people, because as you know, there are people who kill 
     whales and dolphins intentionally, as well as unintentionally.
     
     Like you, I like to dive a lot, but please try to leave the big whales 
     alone.  It's much better for them, and safer for you in the long run.
     
     Dagmar