By Daniel Cressey
Boat trips to watch whales and dolphins may increasingly be putting the survival of marine mammals at risk, conservationists have warned.
Research published this year shows that the jaunts can affect cetacean behaviour and stress levels in addition to causing deaths from collisions. But some animals are affected more than others and the long-term effects remain unclear, scientists at the International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC) in Glasgow, UK, heard last week.
“Whale-watching is traditionally seen as green tourism,” says wildlife biologist Leslie New of the US Geological Survey in Laurel, Maryland. “The negative is the potential for disturbance. That disturbance is a worry because we don’t want to do ‘death by 1,000 cuts’.”
The number of people joining trips has expanded hugely since the 1990s, from 4 million in 31 countries in 1991 to 13 million in 119 countries in 2008, the most recent year for which full data are available. In 2008, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, an animal-protection charity in London, estimated the value of the industry at US$2.1 billion.