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.