Whale watching

Whale watching nature tourism is becoming a vehicle for transforming conservation and research into key economic forces. As populations of whales around the world are starting to show signs of slow recovery from past whaling exploitation, the potential is also growing to observe whales from coastal communities.

Since it's beginnings in the 1950's, whale watching has become one of the fastest growing nature tourism industries in the world. It now occurs in over 87 countries and territories and is estimated to be worth in excess of $1 billion (USD) each year attracting more than 9 million participants (Hoyt 2001). As the socioeconomic value of whales grows as a tourism resource, so too does the need for long-term conservation of whales and management of the whale watching industry.

Sections: The Growth and Value of Whale Watching Ι The Impacts of Whale Watching Ι Whale Watching guidelines and best practice Ι Best Practice Guidelines

The Growth and Value of Whale Watching

Whale watching, defined by the IWC as any commercial enterprise which provides for the public to see cetaceans in their natural habitat (IWC 1994) is one of the fastest growing tourism products in the world. Thirty-four of the 40 IWC member countries (85%) now have whale watching activities (Hoyt 2001) , and ironically, it is a rapidly growing activity in countries that still hunt whales such as Norway and Japan. As of 1998, over 100,000 people went whale and dolphin watching in Japan, spending an estimated $33 million (USD) (Hoyt 2001) . Annual income from whale watching here far outweighs that of the sale of whale meat products.

In Australia the number of people going whale watching has grown at an average of 15% annually over the last 5 years (IFAW 2004). Comparatively the international tourism market shows an average growth of only 2.76%. Australia now hosts 1.5 million whale watchers contributing close to $300 million to the national economy annually (IFAW 2004) . The growth of the industry is the highest in NSW, which experienced 37% growth in the period 1998 - 2003 (IFAW 2004) .

In many places such as Kaikoura, New Zealand, and the Kingdom of Tonga, whale watching provides valuable income to local indigenous communities, with the creation of jobs and business. In the Kingdom of Tonga whale watching generates an estimated USD $700,000 annually for the Tongan national economy (Orams 2002) . Communities here benefit not only from direct expenditure on whale watching activities but also from flow-on effects of tourism such as transport services and hotels.

Not only can whale watching help to raise awareness about marine conservation issues, but also it often provides a platform for scientific research, ultimately contributing to the conservation of the animals. Moreover the activity represents a diversity of values in addition to economic. (IFAW 1999) concluded that the true value of whale watching is more than just expenditures by tourists. Values associated with it can be recreational, cultural, aesthetic, spiritual and political which in essence are 'non-use values'. Whale watching nature tourism exemplifies a key objective that defines sustainable use, where benefits result from the potential for use by future generations.

The lifestyle of coastal people has always been intimately linked with the marine environment and its resources and increasingly maritime nations are looking at new, more sustainable ways to generate a livelihood from the sea, including a strong focus on the development of whale watching. Whale watching nature tourism here has the potential to become a vehicle for transforming conservation and research into key economic forces. Marine mammal viewing can result in conservation and socioeconomic benefits for the animals and local communities alike if it is conducted responsibly (Spradlin, Barre et al. 2001) . (Orams 2001) agrees that whale watching tourism is likely to lead to a greater appreciation of and public desire to conserve, the wildlife involved.

Whale watching as a commercial endeavour has many important educational, environmental, scientific, and other socioeconomic benefits. (IFAW, WWF et al. 1997) suggests that the most valuable thing about whale watching is the potential to educate people.

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Sections: The Growth and Value of Whale Watching Ι The Impacts of Whale Watching Ι Whale Watching guidelines and best practice Ι Best Practice Guidelines

The Impacts of Whale Watching

The impacts of whale watching activities from boats, land and air are hard to define and measure. (Corkeron 1995) reveals that boat traffic can alter the behaviour of humpback whales or affect their distribution patterns. It is generally accepted that the impacts of vessel traffic in the form of whale watching boats is at present probably minor compared to other threats such as whaling, entanglement, pollution, climate change (Clapham, Young et al. 1999) . However there is evidence to show that short-term impacts can have cumulative and corresponding possible long-term impacts on cetacean individuals, groups, or populations causing reduced reproductive success, changes in special movement patterns to critical habitat areas, and disruptions to critical behaviours such as feeding and mating (Bejder and Samuels 2003) . Disturbance may also result in redistribution of animals within a population, such that less tolerant individuals or members of certain age, sex or reproductive classes become sensitised and displaced to less optimal areas where food resources are less abundant or predators are more prevalent (Bejder and Samuels 2003) .

Little is known about the potential effects of nature-based tourism on cetaceans. Current understanding of the effects of tourism on free-ranging cetaceans is far from satisfactory. This can be partly attributed to a scarcity of studies that incorporate the longitudinal perspective vital both for studying such long-lived creatures and for evaluating the effects that may be cumulative rather than immediate (Bejder and Samuels 2003). Nevertheless, many studies investigating the effects of tourism have demonstrated that these activities often elicit short-term changes in the behaviour of cetaceans. Though there is a lack of assessment of the potential long-term effects of cetacean-focused tourism it is suggested that long-term displacement of cetaceans from preferred areas has been correlated with human activity. A recent study (Bejder 2005) has found that the cumulative effect of repeated disturbance can lead to long term effects on reproductive success in dolphins, and further evidence suggests it is the duration and intensity of interactions that may lead to increased impacts. Analysis of 10 years of demographic data revealed long-term consequences on the reproductive success of individual bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops aduncas, fed by humans at a tourist resort (Mann, Connor et al. 2000) . Specifically, provisioned female dolphins were found to have significantly lower calf survivorship than wild-feeding females in the same bay.

Due to the potential for the short-term responses elicited by human activity to translate into long-term changes in behaviour, reproduction, physical condition, distribution and habitat use of cetaceans, ultimately influencing survival and population size, it is critical for whale watching operators and guides to be trained in appropriate mitigation measures.

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Sections: The Growth and Value of Whale Watching Ι The Impacts of Whale Watching Ι Whale Watching guidelines and best practice Ι Best Practice Guidelines

Whale Watching guidelines and best practice

Models of best practice, including codes of conduct and guidelines are increasingly playing an important role in the management of whale watching. Often theses are voluntary but have legal enforcement in some areas, which may be through State laws or within the wider legislation of Marine Protected Areas.

Whale watching guidelines aim to manage potentially adverse impacts on whales from both commercial and recreational whale watching activities by stipulating minimum approach distances and dictating appropriate behaviour from land, boat and air. These measures take a precautionary approach and are designed to allow interaction with cetaceans while taking the best measures not to disrupt their normal behaviour. A variety of measures are used around the world to manage whales addressing issues of harassment, disturbance and direct killing, however there is agreement among scientists and managers (Berrow 2003) , that voluntary guidelines and codes of conduct do not provide adequate safeguards for whales, thus strong controls are recommended.

One of the most common compliance strategies is to suspend or revoke the permits of those operators who operate in breech of guidelines. In most cases operators cannot afford to loose the permit that their livelihood depends on, thus the industry becomes largely self-regulatory, as is the case in Hervey Bay which is now a mature industry where enforcement presence is needed less and licensed operators police each other and private boaters (Franklin and Franklin 2005) . Where no licensing exists however, enforcement programs and penalty structures provide incentives for operators to comply with guidelines.

The issue of compliance though can be met through training and education where operators are taught approach distances and angles in practice and become trained in whale behaviour enough to sufficiently detect disturbance and avoidance behaviour, hence knowing when to disengage from a pod and decreasing the likelihood of adverse impacts. Young industries with less experienced operators would benefit from including operator training as a licence requirement, thus increasing potential for compliance from the onset as operators would be tested in applying the guidelines.

In comparing whale watching regulations in the pacific region there are many parallels and common guidelines based on what is known about the reaction of marine mammals to vessels. Studies have correlated features of vessel activity with features of whale behaviour (Williams, Trites et al. 2002) , underscoring the biological relevance of having whale watching guidelines, as the energetic cost of a whale's avoidance strategy regarding vessels may negatively effect critical behaviours such as feeding or mating or influence critical habitat use.

Collaboration between industry, wildlife managers, NGO's and scientists exemplifies best practice. There are several benefits to using commercial tour vessels as a research platform, the most significant being that this is a relatively inexpensive way to gain regular and frequent access to the animals, and to obtain a large sample of observations of tourist-cetacean interactions.

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Sections: The Growth and Value of Whale Watching Ι The Impacts of Whale Watching Ι Whale Watching guidelines and best practice Ι Best Practice Guidelines

Best Practice Guidelines

  • Persons shall use their best endeavours to operate vessels, vehicles, and aircraft so as not to disrupt the normal movement or behaviour of any marine mammal
  • Contact with any marine mammal shall be abandoned at any stage if it becomes or shows signs of becoming disturbed or alarmed
  • No person shall cause any marine mammal to be separated from a group of marine mammals or cause any members of such a group to be scattered
  • No rubbish or food shall be thrown near or around any marine mammal
  • No sudden or repeated change in the speed or direction of any vessel or aircraft shall be made
  • Where a vessel stops to enable the passengers to watch any marine mammal, the engines shall be either placed in neutral
  • No person shall disturb or harass any marine mammal
  • No person, vehicle, or vessel shall cut off the path of a marine mammal or prevent a marine mammal from leaving the vicinity of any person, vehicle, or vessel
  • Any vessel within 300 metres from any marine mammal shall move at a constant slow speed no faster than the slowest marine mammal in the vicinity, or at idle or "no wake" speed:
  • Vessels departing from the vicinity of any marine mammal shall proceed slowly at idle or "no wake" speed until the vessel is at least 300 metres from the nearest marine mammal
  • Avoid loud disturbing noises near marine mammals
  • Vessels should approach whales from a direction parallel and slightly to the rear
  • Do not approach closer than 100m
  • Do not approach a calf or a pod containing a calf ( A calf is described as an animal less than ½ the length of the animal accompanying it)

The federal Department of Environment and Heritage (DEH) has recently reviewed national management measures for whale and dolphin watching and hence the Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching 2005 were released in October 2005. Developed jointly by all Australian, State and Territory governments through the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council, they represent a consistent national policy for the management of whale and dolphin watching. They build upon and replace the ANZECC Australian National Guidelines for Cetacean Observation , published in 2000, and aim to minimise harmful impacts and ensure people have the best opportunity to enjoy and learn about the whales and dolphins.

The national guidelines (DEH 2005) specifically refer to education and suggest "To be considered 'best practice' operators should provide an educational component to their tours. It is recommended that operators educate their customers about the rules and guidelines that exist at state and national levels to guide operators and protect whales and dolphins. Commonwealth, State or Territory management authorities also have a responsibility to work with the whale and dolphin watching industry to develop and improve the content and quality of educational material provided to clients. The training and where appropriate accreditation of all people involved in the industry - owners, operators and their staff - is strongly encouraged."

In some jurisdictions the regulations on whale watching are stricter than those outlined in the national guidelines.

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