Responsible whale watching is whale watching that adheres to the core whale watching principles identified by the International Whaling Commission's body of experts in 1996. In brief, responsible whale watching manages the potential impacts to the animals that are being watched, and allows the animals to determine the nature and duration of interactions as much as possible. Why is this important?
Whale watching is usually perceived as an ‘eco-friendly’ venture – an activity that gives value to whales as one of nature’s spectacles for humans to enjoy, and that can contribute to local communities and economies. However, many studies have shown that whale watching activities, when not conducted responsibly, have the potential to significantly disturb, and ultimately decrease the chances of long-term survival of the animals that are being watched 1-3.
Many whale and dolphin populations are facing serious threats – and whale watching should not add to these: Most baleen (and some toothed) whale populations suffered severe declines after centuries of whaling. While many baleen whale populations are recovering since the world-wide moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect in 1986, some do not appear to be increasing4,5, and all whale and dolphin populations face a number of new modern-day threats, among them accidental entanglement in fishing gear (known as bycatch)6,7, climate change4,8-11, ship strikes4, 12-14, marine pollution and loss or deterioration of important habitat15-18. Unfortunately, whale watching has the potential to contribute to these pressures.
Boat-based whale watching exposes whales and dolphins to underwater noise, as well as the risk of injury from collision with the boat’s hull or propeller19,20. The presence of boats can distract the animals from important behaviours like resting, socializing or feeding1,3,21. Being distracted from these activities can have a negative impact on individual animals, particularly those that are more vulnerable like calves, pregnant females and females still nursing their young. The potential harm increases when more vessels are present, and when boats are present more frequently and for longer periods.