According to the excellent research by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, worldwide whale watching now generates over $500 million a year, and is enjoyed by perhaps 6 million people in 65 countries. By canoe on the Amazon, off-season whaling boat in Norway, or luxury ship in Alaska, people are going everywhere in search of whales and dolphins. Profit potentials are sure to promote businesses wherever cetaceans are accessible. It is human nature that excesses may soon follow. If you like to watch whales you can help with the problem.
CSI has entered into an unusual agreement in principle with one of the major whale watch tour companies in Europe, Whale Watching Worldwide. We share many mutual interests, including promoting whale watching in Iceland (see preceding article).
Like several other reputable and responsible companies WWW is sending small groups on carefully selected and spectacular tours to watch whales and dolphins all over the world. Can we hope that these companies might stimulate solutions to many developing problems within the industry? WWW seems to be committing to that goal. Long ago ecotourism discovered that a sustainable product and loyal clientele demand that people "take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints". Some whale watching, however, lags far behind the rest of the ecotourism industry because of explosive growth in new and unregulated markets, less obvious impacts on cetaceans and their habitat, an enthusiastic but often naive public, and operators who are driven only by profits.
CSI's agreement is based on the premise that responsible and willing operators like WWW understand and accept responsibility for the cumulative impacts that they may contribute to by bringing in tourists. They may bring economic pressure to bear on the problem by taking their clients elsewhere. WWW and their enlightened public may also be alert to exploitive situations, seeking remedial help from many resources, including enforcement agencies and groups like CSI.
One of many current examples of excess is the swim-with-dolphin tours of New Zealand. It's possible to be whisked from a dock and within minutes jump into the middle of a dolphin group. Does that sound exciting? Not if you really care about the dolphins. CSI has helped sponsor research on the impacts of this tourism in New Zealand (see article in July 1997 Whales Alive!), and has contacted appropriate officials with our concerns. Dusky dolphin populations are increasingly inundated almost continuously during daylight hours, no matter where in their range they go. There seems to be no survivable habitat left that these dolphins can retreat to. The consequences are unknown. At this writing, pending a government review, as many as 14 new operators may be permitted in the Whangarei area alone. Suppose international tour companies like WWW made it clear that they wouldn't patronize such exploitive situations? Would the potential for economic loss stimulate tour sites to be more responsible with "their" resources? Would you patronize WWW because they wouldn't put you in the water on dusky dolphins until the threat is understood?
There are some horrific examples of excess today. In Florida some people engage in feeding wild dolphins, openly flaunting the unenforced laws. Some advertise "dolphin petting tours". Some dolphins have been fed french fries. Dozens of people have apparently been injured. Although NMFS is said to be spending $600,000 next year to create some semblance of meeting their mandate to prevent such travesties, the local opinion is that there is nothing wrong with feeding wild dolphins. In Portugal and Spain small dolphin populations are just attracting attention. Local people with excellent motives want to use them to educate others. CSI is trying to help them prepare for the commercial exploitation that can easily follow.
What is wrong with making money this way? Cetaceans aren't sacred; they like to interact; look at them smile; they can always swim away; if people want the show they should have it. The critical misperceptions behind such excesses are based on our ignorance of habitat use, survival needs, conditioning, and the creature itself. How can you help? Speak with your wallet. Find out where the excesses are. Contact WDCS, Alexander House, James Street West, Bath, Avon BA1 2BT, UK, <Vanessa_Williams/WDCS@wdcs.org> for specifics. Then write the operators and tell them you want to come but won't until you know that their impact is controlled and responsible. You will be surprised and proud with your impact on the problem. Money talks.
CSI recommends that if you know of anyone interested in joining a responsible yet awesome whale watch experience in some exotic places have them contact Whale Watching Worldwide, In der Schlehhecke 17, D-66459 Kirket, Germany, or by email at <firstname.lastname@example.org> for a complete list of 1998 tours. Be certain to ask about WWW's policy and practice. If you find any problems please contact CSI.
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