The whale watching industry has incredible potential to promote marine conservation.
By connecting the public with the natural world, whale watching can educate others and encourage protection of sea life. However, evidence exists that current practices may negatively impact whale populations, in particular by altering their natural behaviour. A large, noisy boat could be both stressful and threatening to a whale.
Therefore, Whale Wise aims to provide a detailed illustration of the impact of whale watching encounters on whale populations. Using a range of methods and gadgets, from drones to theodolites, we will deduce the behavioural, bio-energetic and physiological response of whales to whale watching vessels. From this, we will construct a conservation plan aimed at minimising these negative impacts. By engaging local tour operators and the general public with our project and its aims, we hope to translate our research into action towards protection of whales and dolphins.
We will focus on the whales of Skjálfandi Bay, Iceland: an important feeding ground for various whale species and an area subject to intense whale watching. Specifically, we will study two species, which travel every year from their breeding grounds in the tropics to gorge on the summer bounty of the North Atlantic:
- Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus), the largest animal in the world and an endangered species.
- Humpback whales (Megaptera novangliae), the most commonly-sighted species in the bay.
We want to stress that we are not against whale watching. We realise its massive economic benefits to coastal communities and its potential to promote marine conservation. Furthermore, the public should be able to encounter these incredible animals in their natural habitat: it’s certainly a better alternative to captivity and, for many, it is a life-changing experience. However, we also have a duty to protect the welfare and population status of the whales we love to watch. Moreover, we believe it is possible to provide high-quality encounters whilst minimising disturbance to whales and dolphins.
If our project and its aims spark your interest, please keep up to date through this blog!