A Good Whale WatchA good whale watch
In the last two decades, whale watching has taken off in a big way all over the world. Currently, nearly 90 countries offer whale and dolphin-watching trips and they vary tremendously. You can choose from a host of different vessels, including huge cruise ships, yachts and catamarans. You may find half a dozen or more companies offering trips from the same harbour and it can be difficult to know which one to choose. It is tempting to believe that all operators offer much the same experience, but in fact, this is not always the case. It is important to recognise that a good whale watch trip is one which is not only enjoyable, educational and safe for the passengers, but also treats the whales and dolphins being watched with care and respect, and this means the minimum of intrusion.
WDCS offers its own whale watching holidays through our travel wing, out of the blue. You can find our more about these on the out of the blue website.
Whale watch operations are almost always commercial ventures and those operators offering a substandard service rely on passengers choosing indiscriminately and just getting on the first boat they see at the quayside, or simply not being well-informed about what to expect. If passengers insist on using only those operators who provide a truly balanced, educational experience, this sends out a powerful message to the poorer operators to "clean up their act" and improve the quality of their venture. This usually leads to an overall improvement in the quality of trips on offer in the area - which can only have a beneficial effect upon the whales and dolphins themselves.
Here are some guidelines for selecting a good whale watch trip. Before you book a trip or buy tickets for a certain boat, ask for an information leaflet, read display boards or ask questions at the booking office. Make sure that you are happy with what is on offer before you actually buy a ticket or board the vessel.A GOOD WHALE WATCH OPERATOR WILL:1. Put the animals first:
This means careful and responsible boat handling. It is sometimes easy to forget that we are uninvited guests in the world of whales and dolphins and we are privileged to see them. We have a responsibility to cause as little disturbance as possible. Imagine how you would feel if a coachload of tourists descended on your living room and expected to photograph your family having Sunday lunch! In fact, careful and considerate behaviour around the whales usually results in much more enjoyable encounters with them, and the added bonus of observing their natural behaviour. Disappearing dolphins and fleeing whales are no fun to watch!2. Follow regulations governing whale watching in their area:
In many parts of the world, there are specific regulations governing whale watching, (specifying how fast the vessel can travel or how close it can get to the animals, etc) with legal enforcement. However, in some areas, the regulations are not adequately enforced, or there may be a code of conduct, but no means of enforcing this, relying on the goodwill of participating operators. Worse still, there are areas where whale watching is a "free for all" with nothing to prevent irresponsible operators from continually harassing the whales and dolphins in an attempt to get their passengers close to the whales as quickly as possible. It is a good idea to find out whether any regulations or voluntary codes apply in the area before you board the boat. Ask the operator questions to show that you are aware of applicable regulations and dont be afraid to speak up if you feel that a boat captain is not behaving responsibly and putting the needs of the animals first.3. Have adequate safety provisions:
A safe whale watch boat should have: an experienced skipper; crew who are well-trained in first aid and rescue skills; appropriate safety equipment; appropriate insurance; a maximum number of passengers; a tried and tested emergency drill, and a properly prepared safety briefing for all passengers.4. Offer high standards of customer care:
This includes honest advertising of what passengers can expect from the trip. This may include presenting a "sightings success rate" but this should be realistic as, with few exceptions, it is virtually impossible to guarantee sightings on every trip. Every aspect of the trip should be professional, which means a fair ticket price; punctual departures; a clean vessel, and the crew should be friendly and polite. If a trip has to be cancelled due to adverse sea and weather conditions, find out whether there is a policy of refunding fares or offering free places on a future trip.5. Have an onboard naturalist-guide:
This is really important and can make the difference between a "run of the mill" trip and a really memorable experience! A good guide will give you a lively and entertaining commentary on the various species of whales and dolphins you are hoping to see, as well as the other marine wildlife in the area. They will also be knowledgeable about any threats facing local marine wildlife or their habitat. It can be difficult to positively identify a whale or dolphin which is some distance away and here, the trained eyes of the guide will help you to identify that "small black fin to starboard"! The guide will also be able to interpret the behaviour of the whales and dolphins being observed and this can really add to your understanding and enjoyment of the experience. A really well-rounded commentary may also include slides, posters or maps; recordings of whale songs, and the guide may pass around a photo-id catalogue, depicting local whales and dolphins, samples of baleen, a jawbone, or teeth, for passengers to examine.6. Carry out genuine and appropriate research:
There are several advantages to having a researcher onboard. On some boats, the naturalist-guide may also use the vessel as a platform for conducting their research activities and sometimes passengers are able to assist with simple studies. This adds a new dimension to the experience and is also an excellent way of learning and feeling more involved. A good operator will recognise the need to find out as much as possible about the whales, dolphins and other wildlife in the area. Ongoing research can benefit their business by providing a continually expanding source of knowledge on the local whales and their daily and seasonal movements.