Monitoring and Enforcement

Multiple case studies and research efforts have concluded that even those whale watching management plans that combine all the right elements and tools and look perfect on paper will be ineffective in mitigating impacts on whales unless they are supported by effective monitoring and enforcement1-4.  Voluntary codes of conduct, and industry-led self-policing are effective in some areas for limited periods of time, but in many cases, competition between operators and the perception that tourists want to get ‘up close and personal’ with the whales eventually leads operators to approach whales too closely, too quickly, from the wrong angle, or with too many vessels at the same time.  The logistics and costs required to implement effective monitoring and enforcement are often perceived as a stumbling block, and as such, this is the element most often missing from whale watching management plans around the world.  A few whale watching areas have been able to effectively tackle this challenge.  The list below includes a number of issues to consider in relation to monitoring and enforcement based on issues faced in various locations:

  • Determine whether voluntary codes, or legally enforceable regulations are more appropriate: This choice will vary from one setting to the next, depending on resources, stakeholder buy-in and the stage of development of the industry. If the political or legal landscape will not facilitate codes of conduct or permitting to be embedded in a formal legal framework, managers will have a greater challenge enforcing desired conduct.  However, there are ways to encourage compliance with voluntary codes through awareness-raising and education efforts, especially if efforts are supported by an on-the-water presence.  This has been proven by the WhaleSense programme in the United States.  NGOs or operators’ associations may be able to allocate funding to cover the costs of a ‘patrol vessel’ and staff, who can be on the water among whale watching vessels and collect statistics on infractions of the voluntary code in place, even if they do not have the remit to carry out legal enforcement.  It is likely that this presence will make operators who are tempted to bend the rules think twice before they do so.  However, recent studies show that the presence of a vessel with the power to enforce legally mandated codes was linked to significantly improved rates of compliance than a Soundwatch vessel with a more limited mandate to monitor and educate whale watching vessels in the habitat of endangered southern resident killer whales off the northwest coast of the United States5,6.
  • Form a multi-stakeholder, consultative management team: A team that includes bodies that can take on the role of monitoring and enforcement as well as other stakeholders, can ensure that codes designed by other stakeholders are effectively implemented and enforced.  The enforcement role could be fulfilled by the coast-guard, navy, or marine police of any particular jurisdiction/country, who are likely to have appropriate vessels and staff, as well as the mandate and authority to enforce local or national laws.  These stakeholders may need to be convinced of the need and value of using their time and personnel to monitor whale watching.  Offering a source of funding to compensate the additional costs associated with this extra task (e.g. fuel, time, staff) can help to ensure their full collaboration and prioritization of this role.  This model has worked in the Dominican Republic.

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  • Create a marine mammal sanctuary or protected area: While creating an MPA on paper is not a form of enforcement in itself, creating a clearly defined geographical area that is recognized as ‘whale territory’ can allow managers to apply different norms and regulatory measures in that area than those that are applied nationally.  This can make the task of monitoring and enforcement more manageable (as it applies to a smaller and well-defined area), and can also be used as a means to generate funds for monitoring and enforcement through the charging of user or entry fees to operators or tourists that engage in whale watching in the protected area.  This strategy has been effective in the Chubut Peninsula in Argentina, the Samadai Reef in Egypt, and Loreto Bay, Mexico.
  • Ensure that legally enforceable regulations and guidelines are backed by clear consequences for infractions: Generally, regulations are only effective if there is a cost to non-compliance. Consequences for observed infractions can include a scale of sanctions that progresses from warnings to fines, enforced days in port (temporary suspension of permits) or, in severe cases, revoking of permits or licenses. These consequences are most effective in promoting compliance if they are clearly stated in the regulations that govern whale watching and shared widely with operators and tourists alike.   Enforcement agencies should also be adequately trained and aware of the consequences they can impose.
  • Choose a practical form of monitoring: In areas where the logistics or costs of placing a vessel on the water among whale watching vessels on a daily basis are prohibitive, it is possible to consider lower cost options. These can include:
    • An unpredictable rota of patrol presence once a week or once a month:  Some presence and enforcement is better than none – and if operators cannot predict which days patrol vessels will be present, they are more likely to err on the side of caution and compliance than get caught out.
    • Land-based observations conducted from a viewpoint at the entrance to a bay or a cliff-top:  High-powered binoculars or telescopes can be used in combination with cameras or video cameras to observe and record infractions. 
    • Combining the role of registering and collecting fees for entry into the marine protected area, and the enforcing of appropriate conduct. This is effectively achieved in a very small geographical area, such as the Samadai Reef , Egypt, where the government has arrived at a formalized understanding which authorizes a local NGO to take on this dual role of monitoring entry into the dolphin watching area, and behaviour of vessels and swimmers in the area.
    • The placement of observers on whale watching vessels to monitor compliance (otherwise known as the ‘secret shopper’ method):  This is usually only practical and effective in areas where large vessels accommodating many tourists are used, and operators/guides are less likely to recognize the observer in the crowd.

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Show / Hide References
  1. Allen, S., Smith, H., Waples, K. & Harcourt, R. The voluntary code of conduct for dolphin watching in Port Stephens, Australia: is self-regulation an effective management tool? Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 9, 159-166 (2007).
  2. Howes, L., Scarpaci, C. & Parsons, E. C. M. Ineffectiveness of a marine sanctuary zone to protect burrunan dolphins (Tursiops australis sp.nov.) from commercial tourism in Port Phillip Bay, Australia. Journal of Ecotourism 11, 188-201, doi:10.1080/14724049.2012.713362 (2012).
  3. Scarpaci, C., Dayanthi, N. & Corkeron, P. Compliance with Regulations by “Swim-with-Dolphins” Operations in Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, Australia. Environmental Management 31, 0342-0347, doi:10.1007/s00267-002-2799-z (2003).
  4. Wiley, D. N., Moller, J. C., Pace, R. M. & Carlson, C. Effectiveness of Voluntary Conservation Agreements: Case Study of Endangered Whales and Commercial Whale Watching. Conservation Biology 22, 450-457, doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.00897.x (2008).
  5. Seely, E., Osborne, R. W., Koski, K. & Larson, S. Soundwatch: Eighteen years of monitoring whale watch vessel activities in the Salish Sea. PLOS ONE 12, e0189764, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0189764 (2017).
  6. Ferrara, G. A., Mongillo, T. M. & Barre, L. M. Reducing Disturbance from Vessels to Southern Resident Killer Whales: Assessing the Effectiveness of the 2011 Federal Regulations in Advancing Recovery Goals. 76 (Seattle, 2017).

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