Whale Watching Guidelines

This morning, one of my colleagues ran up to the first floor (second floor in American Eng.) with an excitement.

“I just got an email from a scientist who studies whales. He said this whale (pointing at the cover of Whale Watching Guidelines, which was published a few days ago) is No.1, and it was spotted in the Caribbean three days ago.”

Apparently, whale researchers numbered the whales they study, and the patterns on its tail tells that our model is #1 humpback. It’s fascinating to know that who our model was, but in fact, I was more amazed by the fact that the humpback whales migrate that far. From Greenland to the Caribbean! I wonder how many weeks might have taken for the humpback to swim down there…

*** Whale Watching Guidelines by Greenland Tourism and Greenland Institute of Natural Resources ย ***

Whale watching is an increasing industry worldwide including Greenland.
Unregulated whale watching in Nuup Kangerlua can has short term negative effect on humpback whale behaviour in terms of increased speed, fewer surfacings and abbreviated dives.
These behavioural changes likely result in reduced time for foraging and increased energy consumption. it is not known to what extent these short term effects can accumulate to long term effects on various fitness parameters such as skipped breeding, lower fecundity and reduced calf survival.
As humpback whales are often approached closely by both commercial and private whale watching boats in Nuup Kangerlua, the aim of the study was to test a set of whale watching guidelines to help whale watching become more sustainable.
From May to Sept. 2010, the behaviour of humpback whales and whale watching boats in Nuup Kangerlua were recorded. Observations were then divided into three categories, according to the presence and behaviour of whale watching boats: undisturbed whale (i.e. no boats), boats following guidelines and intensive whale watching. The blow rate of humpback whales along with surfacing/dive ratio for each category was calculated.
Observations of blow rate and dive patters collected in 2006-2008 were included in the data analyses to increase the sample size as humpback whales proved hard to find during 2010.
The results indicate that whales under the influence of intense whale watching tend to have a higher blow rate and a reduced number of surfacings before each dive compared to undisturbed whales and whales under the influence of whale watching boats following guidelines.
Although data was not sufficient to make conclusive statements the results suggest that the use of guidelines mitigate the effect of whale watching boats on whale behaviour.
Based on these preliminary results we recommend the following set of guidelines.

– Slow down to “no wake” when within 500m of the whale
– Do not approach the whale directly from behind or in front.
– Do not actively move closer to the whale than 50m.


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