Dolphin Space Programme
An accreditation scheme for wildlife cruise operators in the Moray Firth.What is the Dolphin Space Programme?
The Dolphin Space Programme is an innovative, co-operative approach to sustainable wildlife tourism. Launched on World Oceans Day, 8 June 1995, its aim is to encourage people who go out to observe dolphins to “watch how they watch” and to respect the dolphins’ need for space. Mission
The mission of the Dolphin Space Programme (DSP) is to be a model of excellence in responsible wildlife tourism and to support the sustainable, positive development of marine wildlife watching in the Moray Firth, Scotland.Objectives
The DSP aims to achieve this mission through these complementary objectives:
• reducing the potential impact that cetacean-watching boats can have on the status, distribution or behaviour of the North East Scottish population of bottlenose dolphins;
• raising awareness and encouraging conservation of marine wildlife through provision of high quality training, education and interpretation to DSP members and to the public;
• encouraging collaboration between wildlife tour operators, management agencies, conservation organisations, members of the public and other water users, including recreational boats and shore-based wildlife watchers;
• encouraging long-term ecological and economical sustainability of marine wildlife tourism in the Moray Firth.
Boat operators who join the Dolphin Space Programme accreditation scheme have agreed to follow an approved code of conduct. This includes being trained in the best ways to approach dolphins and other cetaceans to ensure minimal disturbance to the animals. Accredited operators should conduct cruises of high quality and low environmental impact. Passengers on DSP accredited boats will be offered an enjoyable experience taking in the natural beauty and rich diversity of wildlife found in the Moray Firth. Why do we need guidelines for Dolphin Watching in the Moray Firth?
The Moray Firth is one of the most important areas in UK waters for dolphins, porpoises, and whales (collectively known as cetaceans), and supports the only known resident population of bottlenose dolphins in the North Sea. There are only about 130 bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth and a variety of locations along the coast provide some of the best land-based sites in Europe for watching them. Other species of cetacean can be seen in the Moray Firth including common, white-beaked and Risso’s dolphins, harbour porpoise, minke, pilot and killer whales.
Cetacean watching provides valuable income for local communities, as well as providing an ideal opportunity to raise awareness and inform people about the marine environment. However, without appropriate management, cetacean watching from boats can cause disturbance to the very animals people enjoy seeing. Research carried out in other parts of the world, where boat-based cetacean watching has been practised for many years, indicates that cetaceans can show a negative response to the noise and behaviour of tour boats. The potential effects of disturbance on cetaceans from boats can be broadly divided into three categories. These are:
• immediate effects arising from boat/cetaceans collisions;
• short-term effects which include interruption or changes of essential behaviours such as respiration, feeding, resting, socialising, communicating and group spacing. Repeated disturbance of these and other important behaviours can result in stress and increased use of energy;
• long-term effects which can result in changes in distribution, reduced fitness and reduced breeding potential.
Responses by cetaceans to disturbance may be particularly pronounced when boats approach fast, aggressively or erratically, cut across groups of animals and/or move over feeding and resting areas.
To avoid these potential impacts, the Dolphin Space Programme provides a code of conduct, training opportunities and educational materials for tour operators to ensure that vessel interactions with cetaceans are conducted safely and responsibly.
The Dolphin Space Programme is overseen by a steering group comprising VisitScotland, the Wildlife Tour Boat Operators’ Society, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, the Northern Constabulary, Grampian Police, The Highland Council, Inverness Harbour Trust, the Maritime Coastguard Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage.
For more information or to find out who the accredited operators are in your area please visit the Dolphin Space Programme Project website at www.dolphinspace.org
, or contact the DSP Project Officer (PO Box 5890, Forres, IV36 1WY, 07921 106144, firstname.lastname@example.org
). Alternatively contact your local Tourist Information Centre or Scottish Natural Heritage Office. DSP Code of Conduct
The aim of the DSP Code of Conduct is to ensure that the dolphins (and other marine wildlife) are the ones in control of their interaction with tour boats. They choose how close to approach the boat and how long they want to spend with us.
Below are some general guidelines followed by DSP boats. The specific code followed by each boat depends on the area they operate in. You can find more details on the DSP website or ask your tour operator for a copy of the DSP code they follow.
• DSP boats do not pursue or harass dolphins or other cetaceans.
• DSP boats keep their distance, letting the animals choose how close they want to approach.
• Cetaceans prefer to interact with boats that behave in a predictable way, so during encounters DSP boats follow a straight course at slow speed and don’t make any sudden changes in speed or direction.
• If there is more than one tour boat in the area, the second boat will wait for the first boat to leave before approaching the dolphins.
• Touching, feeding and swimming with cetaceans can be very stressful for them and can pose a health and safety risk to the animals and people involved. DSP accredited boats do not allow these activities.
• DSP boats dispose of litter, fuel and oil in a safe and responsible way.
Most DSP boats are also WiSe (Wildlife Safe) accredited and have been trained to responsibly approach seabirds, seals and basking sharks as well as cetaceans. For more information and a list of members go to www.wisescheme.org