Whale & Dolphin Conservation And Tourism.
Anyone in this world would fall in love with the antics and playful activities of the dolphins. Kids are very fond of watching them. And who does not admire the whales for their massive size? Anyone would give the fortune to watch them in real life.
Tourism constitutes 10% of the global GDP and among this, whale and dolphin watching tourism are growing by the day. It generates revenues of $2.5 billion, providing employment to 15,000 people in over 120 countries (as per reports in 2010).
A number of coastal communities have been transformed due to whale watch tourism and one of them is the Kaikoura in New Zealand where the annual number of visitors rose from 3400 to around 8,73,000 in a period of 10 years. The income and jobs generated instills a sense of pride and encourages them to care for the whales and dolphins on which the economy depends.
Before we proceed further let us study a few facts about dolphins and Whales-
· Dolphins are carnivores and their prey includes fish, squid, and crustaceans.
· There are 42 species of dolphin in the world. Most of them live in the oceans, while five species live in the rivers.
· People love them for their playful behavior. Being very social and live in groups that hunt and play together. They are highly intelligent and the evolution of their brain is similar to humans.
· Dolphins are marine mammals. They need to come to the surface to breathe. Unlike land mammals that breathe and eat through their mouths, dolphins have separate holes for each task. They eat through their mouths and breathe through their blowholes.
· The Orca(killer whale) is the largest dolphin. Hector’s dolphin and Franciscana are the smallest. Their lifespan varies from around 20 years in the smaller dolphin species to 80 years or more in the larger ones.
· Pregnancy of dolphin lasts between nine and sixteen months. The mother feeds her offspring on milk.
· The blue whale is the largest animal and can grow to 90 feet and weigh as much as 24 elephants.
· Scientists estimate bowhead whales can live up to 200 years and killer whales up to more than 100 years. Killer whales are highly social and travel in groups as a family.
· Grey whales make one of the longest annual migration trips of any mammal, around 10,000 miles. Sperm whales were almost driven to extinction by commercial whalers who sought the blubber in body and unique oil derived from spermaceti organ in their heads.
· Male humpback whales sing complex songs in winter breeding areas that can last up to 20 minutes and heard miles away.
Why do the whales and dolphins beach or strand on land?
A whale or a dolphin beached on the shore is a sign of danger of their death. Thousands of whales and dolphins die on shores every year. Some may be due to natural causes but many from human activities.
Whales and dolphins are helpless on land and would die in few hours if not looked after. There are two types of strandings-
Here the whale or a dolphin reaches shore because they are injured, sick or disoriented or may have died recently. This may be due to natural death or a human-induced one like injury due to fishing nets or collision with a boat.
The multiple strandings are due to live or recently dead individuals of the same species coming ashore with a leading animal. They are in a social grouping. The pilot whale is an example. When they strand it could be that the leader in their group has made a navigational mistake, or one of the individuals has got sick or wounded that led the rest of the group to the shore.
The disease can also lead them towards the shore. Stranding could also be due to an event that has occurred and driven the animals from their natural areas; like a military exercise or a chemical spill.
The noise associated with military exercise or oil exploration can drive them towards the shore.
Benefits of whale watching
We have already discussed the economic benefit that results in employment generation and tourism. This provides people an incentive to conserve their habitat. An additional benefit is that it instills in persons an appreciation for wildlife and raises awareness for whale and dolphin conservation.
The inspired tourists may help in environmental and conservation efforts. Vessels that help people in watching can collect data on whales and dolphins regarding their distribution and habitats, thus helping in data compilation.
Impact on whale watching
It is important that whale watching tour operators and managers responsible for organizing tours understand the impact of their activity. A failure to minimize some of the harmful impacts could lead to whales and dolphins leaving the area where they are watched, or a significant drop in numbers due to stress and the inability of the animals to engage in natural activities like feeding and resting.
There are short term and long term impacts on these animals. Short-term impacts include changes in the behavior of whales; like deeper and more frequent dives and fast changes in direction in front of the whale watching boat as they try to confuse the boat. They see the vessels as predators and some whales are known to increase speed when the boats are within one hundred meters.
Whether these short term behavioral changes would result in long term changes would depend on how often the group is disturbed by the boats in their feeding and resting activities. Long term changes are often difficult to measure because whales and dolphins have a long life.
They have to be observed for a number of years before any significant change can be detected. But where the effects have been monitored it has been linked to a decline in population with the movement of animals away from the tourist area.
Whale or dolphin population near shore can be disturbed by the activity of a watching vessel with tourists. There could be an increase in stress hormones. Prolonged stress is known to be linked to lower survival rates in mammals and should not be taken lightly.
The noise from boats is known to mask communication between whales and dolphins. A study has indicated that 30–50 minutes of exposure to noise from a distance of 450 meters from a vessel can cause a temporary shift in their hearing threshold and prolonged exposure to sounds of the boats can lead to permanent hearing damage. The disruption in communication affects dependent calves and their mothers more.
To prevent the negative effects of tourism some measures can be taken and regulations considered for whale and dolphin watching. The International Whaling Commission has agreed on a set of principles for watching. Regulations should be based on research to indicate the number of vessels and the number of hours that can be considered safe that can prevent the negative consequences for whales and dolphins.
Following rules can be observed on sighting a whale or a dolphin nearby when persons are in a boat-
· A distance of 100 meters should be maintained from the animal. There should be only one boat which should leave the area after fifteen minutes. Avoid approaching them head-on or from behind and be in their field of view.
· Don’t try to provoke a reaction from animals and leave it to them to shape the encounter. Increase the distance when calves are present or when they get restless.
· Avoid sudden turns; minimize noise and speed.
· Don’t feed whales and dolphins.
Locations for Whale and Dolphin watching-
· In South Africa, the town of Hermanus is the center for whale watching. Between May and December whales come closer to the shoreline.
· In Brazil humpbacks are observed off Salvador during their breeding season. Income from whale watching bolsters the income of local people.
· In Argentina around the town of Puerto Piramides whales come within 200m of the main beach and it is one of the whale watching destinations in the world.
· Off the coast of Ireland humpback whales are seen and organized trips are arranged between July and February.
· In Spain, the species observed are bottlenose dolphin and pilot, sperm, and killer whale.
· Eastern Canada has whale watching tours around Newfoundland. Twenty-two species of whale and dolphin frequent the waters of Newfoundland.
· In Asia largest group of whale tourists are in China and Japan. India, the Philippines, and the Maldives have dolphin watching.
These are some of the locations mentioned as examples for whale and dolphin watching. There are many more. People should be more sensitive to their surroundings and take care of the environment. There should be a balanced growth of Flora and Fauna and all the creatures should be taken care of.
The balanced growth would lead to sustainable economic activities. Since the whale and dolphins are a source of livelihood for many people, care should be taken for both these animals. The government too can be helpful in framing and enforcing rules and regulations.