Whale Watching Ecotourism

Have you ever been on a Whale watching expedition before?

Personally, I have not, but I would definitely do whatever it takes, just to see these magnificent creatures in this life time.

After seeing amazing pictures that these privileged tourists had took home with them on Facebook, I decided to look up on Google where I could go for whale watching. Trip advisor had led me to Kaikoura, New Zealand who had received significant positive reviews shown here below:

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 12.19.25 am
Screen Shot of Whale Watch Ecotourism in Kaikoura, New Zealand. Website link: http://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/Attraction_Review-g255374-d546531-Reviews-Whale_Watch-Kaikoura_Canterbury_Region_South_Island.html

After reading all the reviews, it made me even more thrilled to look forward to the day I get on that Whale Watching Boat! However, as I continued my search, one particular customer was extremely dissatisfied with a different company, and even claimed that the company had partaken in unethical Whale Watching along with untrained guides.

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 12.41.16 am
Screenshot taken from Trip Advisor Website link: http://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/ShowUserReviews-g298424-d1396846-r310616954-Boquete_Outdoor_Adventures-Boquete_Chiriqui_Province.html

A representative from Boquete Outdoor Aventures (BOA) responded and disagreed with what the customer.

Our company is knowledgeable about the whales and adheres to Panama’s whale watching guidelines issued by ARAP (Water Resources Authority of Panama). We disagree to any unethical behavior that you are stating. Our guide is a certified wildlife and birdwatching naturalist guide and is very knowledgeable about the wildlife specific to Panama…

Our captain is a licensed boat captain … for over 15 years and is familiar with the regulations of Panama to which we adhere. With responsible whale watching, we respect the animals first and foremost, trying to approach from an angle. Once at a safe distance, we continue parallel to the whales. If they come close to us, we put the boat in neutral or turn off the motor. The whales are very docile and calm during the whale watching tour, surfacing for air every 20-30 seconds, when we get some great views and photos ops. They do not seem agitated by our presence, and we usually depart after a brief time of viewing.

A responsible whale watching tour should give maximum experience and observation with minimum impact on the animals being observed and the marine environment. Being in business for over 10 years, we are a responsible company and we maintain an excellent reputation in the local community as being an advocate for protection of wildlife and the environment.
http://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/ShowUserReviews-g298424-d1396846-r310616954-Boquete_Outdoor_Adventures-Boquete_Chiriqui_Province.html#

Upon reflection, I have realised that Whale Watching isn’t merely a simple issue. It involves the creation of laws, and the maintenance and strong reinforcement of the laws in order to protect these creatures whilst them being the source of revenue for this industry. Under the close watch by most government bodies, companies like BOA strive to protect the welfare of these animals, and uphold what the intended purpose for Ecotourism was – to inspire and impact without inducing harm.

Astonishing as it sounds, the Whale Watching Ecotourism industry has generated about $2.1 Billion by 2008 (‘Whale Watching Worldwide Tourism Numbers, Expenditures And Expanding Economic Benefits’), and generated 13,200 jobs in total from more than 3000 Whale Watching operations.

However, there are drawbacks to Ecotourism regardless how much we try to prevent environmental degradation. The very essence of Ecotourism would mean the introduction of humans to a part of the earth that was once undisturbed. Moreover, there is no guarantee that every whale watching organisation may adhere to strict rules and regulations, especially when profit maximisation takes over the importance of protecting these creatures and their habitat. This can be seen in developing countries such as Sri Lanka (D Ilangakoon), in which the increase in boat traffic due to Whale Watching may spell trouble for endangered blue whales in these waters. The number of Whale Watching vessels have increased from 2 in 2009, to 17 in 2012. The competition among these organisations and a lack of knowledge about these whales and behavioural ecology has lead to unethical practices and harassment to these creatures. 

Unethical Whale and Dolphin watching organisations have known to feed these wild animals in order to draw them to the boats so as to achieve greater customer satisfaction. This results in these wild cetaceans to be drawn to other boats with dangerous motors and can cause serious injury. Some boats even drive closely to induce behaviours such as breaching (jumping). Ultimately, these unethical actions are extremely detrimental and paves the way for more species to move towards extinction.

So what can we do?

We as customers have the greatest influence. When deciding to participate in Whale Watching, go to operators who are recognised for their ethical operations and have recognition by the local government. Refrain from patronising unethical operators, and report to governing authorities or large conservation groups such as IFAW and WDC who have the capacity to stop them, when you observe unethical actions such as intentional high speed driving to invoke breaching behaviours, for operators are to slow down upon sighting a whale or a pod. For more information, you may refer to this website: http://www.responsibletravel.com/holidays/whale-watching/travel-guide/whale-watching-responsible-tourism-issues for more information on what to look out for on your trip!

Featured Image taken from Trip Advisor:
http://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/Attraction_Review-g255374-d546531-Reviews-Whale_Watch-Kaikoura_Canterbury_Region_South_Island.html#photos

References:

‘Whale Watching Worldwide Tourism Numbers, Expenditures And Expanding Economic Benefits’. International Fund for Animal Welfare (2009): n. pag. Print.

D Ilangakoon, Anoukchika. ‘Exploring Anthropogenic Activities That Threaten Endangered Blue Whales (Balaenoptera Musculus) Off Sri Lanka’. Marine Animals and Their Ecology 5.1 (2012): n. pag. Print.

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