Whale-Watching Can Be Harmful To Cetaceans

While ecotourism is a growing industry, opening up the world to tourists captivated by its natural beauty, recent research suggests that whale-watching may actually be harmful to cetaceans, potentially altering the way in which the marine mammals behave.

As Smithsonian reports, a recent meeting of the International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC) concluded that while the practice of whale-watching isn’t as bad as whaling, it could still be inflicting damage on the species, even inadvertently. Wildlife biologist Leslie New of the US Geological Survey in Laurel, Maryland, described the effect as “death by 1,000 cuts,” pointing out that while “whale-watching is traditionally seen as green tourism,” there are drawbacks. “The negative is the potential for disturbance.”

Whale-watching tours raise the possibility of collisions with the animals, though there are also less obvious ways in which they pose a threat cetaceans. Whale-watching takes place in areas where the animals are likely to be seen, such as feeding grounds, and repeated interactions with boats can cause whales to avoid areas crucial to their survival. As Scientific American notes, some whales are affected more than others by tourist boats, and the reasons why remain unclear, as do the long-term effects.

While whale-watching is an industry that is valued at over $2.1 billion, there are surprisingly few firm regulations that apply to the practice. Just 38 percent of the legal codes related to whale-watching are in any way binding. While the other codes are purely voluntary, they are also often inadequate, doing little to protect whales from the threat of boat collisions or other harassment.

Brian Smith, a zoologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, who also took part in the meeting, pointed out that while cetacean tourism is a problem for whales, the threat posed by fishing nets is far more dangerous, as The Inquisitr noted in the past.

Most speakers at the IMCC meeting contended that more should be done to protect whales and dolphins from the effects of ecotourism. As New pointed out, “Although whale-watching is not as bad as whaling, it might be that last piece that pushes a species over.”

[Image via Trip Advisor]