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World Whale Conference Seeks to Unify International Standards for Cetacean Interaction

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Snorkelling with wild animals is becoming more popular as people move away from captive live animal shows (photo: Shutterstock)

Delegates at the World Whale Conference in Durban, South Africa, have been working towards a new set of international standards for whale and dolphin watching and snorkelling trips. 

As stated on the website, the three main goals of the conference are:

  1. Agree a set of Global Standards that protect cetaceans in tourism by combining current best practice guidelines, advice from practitioners, and the latest scientific research into one resource.
  2. Create an International Advisory Committee for Cetaceans in Tourism (both in the wild and in captivity) to oversee the agreed Global Standards.
  3. Seek endorsement for both the Global Standards and Advisory Committee from national and international institutions, regulatory bodies, governments, NGOs, and the travel industry.

Part of the reasoning behind the debate is that guidelines for interacting with cetaceans have been implemented in a range of locations, but there is no set of internationally accepted standards underpinning them. Although the local regulations may have been designed with the best of intentions, they often vary substantially and, in some cases, prove impossible to either implement or enforce.

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This picture from Bali shows how the number of boats can often exceed the number of dolphins in the water (photo: Shutterstock)

Among the problems being discussed is the increase in boat traffic to cetacean-watching destinations which is hazardous by itself, and dropping too many people into the water as they compete for close encounters with wild animals. This comes partly as a result of the general public moving away from captive dolphin shows such as those found at Seaworld, but the resulting demand for more 'authentic' encounters is putting pressure on wild cetacean populations.

The UK-based WCA (World Cetacean Alliance) helped produce a number of the guidelines in the hope that operators will follow the guidelines and conduct trips more responsibly. These including a ban on the feeding of animals and on the use of potentially harmful selfie sticks. The proposals also state that swimmers should not be placed in the water in a cetacean’s line of travel. 

Although the guidelines are voluntary and without legal obligation to be followed, conference delegates hope that operators will sign up to the new standards, so that cetacean interactions can be enjoyed without putting unwanted pressure on the animals.


Check out DIVE’s guide to some of the best places to find dolphins during your dive vacation!



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