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United Kingdom

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Extent of whale and dolphin watching 

The island of Great Britain has an extensive and varied coastline, encompassing many different types of habitats suited to cetaceans. At least 28 of the globally recognized species of cetaceans have been reported in UK waters. Of those, 7 species can be seen regularly throughout the year including minke whales, harbour porpoises, bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, white-beaked dolphins, common dolphins and killer whales. Other species are recorded but these tend to be offshore so are not regularly seen by whale watching vessels.

Target species, peak times of year and locations:

While whales and dolphins can be seen along most of the United Kingdom’s coastline, a few locations are known for their organized whale and dolphin watching activities.  These include the west coast of Scotland, the Moray Firth on the east coast of Scotland, and Cardigan Bay in Whales.

For an overview of marine wildlife viewing in the UK, you can visit this BBC website:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/17819410

More information about whale and dolphin watching can also be found on the following websites:

England

Scotland

Wales

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Species

County/region

Peak time of year to observe

Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

North East England

Celtic Deep

Summer (offshore)

Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

UK wide

All year

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

UK wide

Sporadic sightings throughout the year

Common Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

Inshore populations in Moray Firth (Scotland), Cardigan Bay and the Llyn Peninsula (Wales) and Devon and Cornish Coast (England)

All year

Short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)

SW England, Wales, Scotland (including the North Sea)

 

Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)

All UK waters

All year

White Beaked Dolphin

(Lagenorhynchus albirostris)

Scotland

North East England

Lyme Bay (southern England)

All year, peaks in Summer (north east England)

Risso’s dolphin

(Grampus griseus)

Wales and East Scotland

All year

Killer whale (Orcinus orca)

North and West Scotland, especially Shetland

All year

 

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Regulations and guidelines

National Guidelines

In the England and Wales, all cetaceans are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, which prohibit their deliberate killing, injury or disturbance. In Scotland, protection is under the Habitats Directive.

All cetaceans are listed under Annex IV and Annex II of the EC Habitats and Species Directive (92/43/EEC) as species being in need of strict protection. Under such protection it is an offence to deliberately disturb cetaceans.

The UK is a Party to the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas (ASCOBANS) which requires signatory states to work towards the prevention of significant disturbance to cetaceans, especially that of an acoustic nature. However there are no specific legislation/regulations for wildlife watching, only voluntary guidelines. Whale watching is not currently licensed in the UK, but the government is looking into ways to improve the control and regulation of whale watching activities.

In the meantime, the WiSE scheme provides a standard for commercial marine wildlife watching. Further information can be found here. WiSE seeks to minimise unintentional disturbance of marine wildlife through:

·        Delivering training and accreditation to operators of registered passenger and charter vessels who wish to view marine wildlife;

  • Working with operators and support boats that may interact with marine wildlife; and
  • Liasing with key organisations to offer advice and guidance for the general public.

Regional guidelines

England

The marine regulator for England has recently issued two press releases to remind the general public and vessel operators of legal frameworks and guidelines for responsible boat-based wildlife viewing:

As well as WiSE guidelines, some regions have local codes of conduct (e,g, Cornwall http://www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk/living-seas/cornwall-marine-and-coastal-code)

Scotland

In 2004, Scotland introduced a Nature Conservation Act which included the requirement to produce a Wildlife Watching Code. The Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code was first published in 2006 and has been reviewed and updated in 2017 to take account of the changes in legislation, as well as providing up to date guidance on watching marine wildlife.  The revised code can be downloaded here, and provides detailed advice on how best to view whales and dolphins with minimum risk of disturbance.

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Research on whale watching in the United Kingdom

A bibliography of studies conducted on the potential impacts of boat-based whale watching on cetaceans in UK waters is provided below.  One 2003 study found that dolphins were more likely to synchronise their diving and breathing in the presence of boats1, and a 2005 study of bottlenose dolphins around Aberdeen showed that while dolphins showed mixed reactions to boats moving slowly or at intermediate speeds, they showed negative reactions to boats traveling at high speeds 2.    While the dolphins in this study seemed to show some level of habituation to moderate vessel presence, on a few occasions during periods of intense and prolonged vessel traffic they were observed to vacate the area entirely2.  Another study quantified levels of identified areas of higher risk of individual bottlenose dolphins’ exposure to boat traffic in the Moray Firth, and provides a model that can be applied to other areas where dolphins are exposed to high levels of vessel traffic, whether related to tourism or other activities3.  This study also found that the presence of vessel traffic could reduce dolphins’ feeding activity up to nearly 50%4.

Many more studies have been conducted on the nature of whale watching activities and tourists’ participating in those activities in Scotland5,6. They include profiles of the types of tourists participating in whale watching as well as the general public’s awareness of cetacean conservation7-10, and the effectiveness and rate of compliance with whale watching guidelines11,12.  

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Références

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  1. Hastie, G. D., Wilson, B., Tufft, L. H. & Thompson, P. M. Bottlenose dolphins increase breathing synchrony in response to boat traffic. Marine Mammal Science 19, 74-84 (2003).
  2. Sini, M. I., Canning, S. J., Stockin, K. A. & Pierce, G. J. Bottlenose dolphins around Aberdeen harbour, north-east Scotland: a short study of habitat utilization and the potential effects of boat traffic. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 85, 1547-1554 (2005).
  3. Pirotta, E., Thompson, P. M., Cheney, B., Donovan, C. R. & Lusseau, D. Estimating spatial, temporal and individual variability in dolphin cumulative exposure to boat traffic using spatially explicit capture–recapture methods. Animal Conservation 18, 20-31, doi:10.1111/acv.12132 (2015).
  4. Pirotta, E., Merchant, N. D., Thompson, P. M., Barton, T. R. & Lusseau, D. Quantifying the effect of boat disturbance on bottlenose dolphin foraging activity. Biological Conservation 181, 82-89, doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bioc... (2015).
  5. Blake, A. et al. The Economic Impact of Wildlife Tourism in Scotland. Report by Ithe nternational Centre for Tourism and Hospitality Research Bournemouth University for Scottish Government Social Research (2010).
  6. Ryan, C. et al. The Development and value of whale-watch tourism in the west of Scotland. Tourism in Marine Environments (2017).
  7. Rawles, C. J. G. & Parsons, E. C. M. Environmental motivation of whale-watching tourists in Scotland. Tourism in Marine Environments 1, 129-132 (2005).
  8. Scott, N. J. & Parsons, E. C. M. A survey of public opinion in south-west Scotland on cetacean conservation issues. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 15, 299-312, doi:10.1002/aqc.662 (2005).
  9. Trust, H. W. a. D. Whale-watching in West Scotland. 1-73 (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, London, 2001).
  10. Howard, C. & Parsons, E. C. M. Public Awareness of Whale-watching Opportunities in Scotland. Tourism in Marine Environments 2, 103-109, doi:10.3727/154427306779436336 (2006).
  11. Inman, A., Brooker, E., Dolman, S., McCann, R. & Wilson, A. M. W. The use of marine wildlife-watching codes and their role in managing activities within marine protected areas in Scotland. Ocean & Coastal Management 132, 132-142, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.oc... (2016).
  12. Parsons, E. C. M. & Woods-Ballard, A. Acceptance of Voluntary Whalewatching Codes of Conduct in West Scotland: The Effectiveness of Governmental Versus Industry-led Guidelines. Current issues in Tourism 6, 172-182 (2003).

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