The theme for this year's conference is ‘Journeys that Inspire Change’
With 2020 just around the corner, the World Whale Conference will set out a 10-year manifesto declaring our intentions, motives, and strategy to protect cetaceans and their habitats from 2020-2030. As the largest gathering of whale watching tourism experts, NGOs, scientists, artists, and individuals with a passion for all things cetacean, the World Whale Conference is the perfect place to plan for a brighter future!
At the heart of our work is tourism. The tourism industry represents 10% of the world’s economy, and whale watching tourism alone generates US$2.1 billion annually. The conference will discuss how tourism can generate vital opportunities and revenue, support our partners in local communities, and protect our oceans worldwide. To achieve this, we will need to replicate the work of those individuals, organisations and destinations that have innovated and inspired us to meet the challenges that whales and dolphins face.
During the World Whale Conference, you will meet some of the world’s leading innovators and be inspired! You will hear their journeys and work collaboratively to find new ways to ensure a future for our oceans and ourselves. The conference will breathe life into the manifesto, and give us the hope and direction we need to continue on journeys that inspire change!
MONDAY 7 October – Official Welcome
Opportunity to head out whale watching with the Hervey Bay fleet!
Hervey Bay Regional Arts Gallery/Cultural Centre
Address: 166 Old Maryborough Road, Hervey Bay
3:30pm - Conference Registrations, collect information packs
4:00pm - Welcome drinks
5:00pm - Speeches
6:30pm - Surprise for delegates
TUESDAY 8 October WWC Day 1
Journeys That Inspire Change
8:30 – 9:00 Registration - Tea / Coffee on arrival
9:00 – 9:30 Launch conference. Official Butchulla Welcome to Country
9:30 – 10:00 KEYNOTE ADDRESS: To Be Announced.
An aboriginal perspective on managing the land in harmony with nature.
10:00 – 10:45 KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Thirty years with the Humpback whales of Hervey Bay: an inspirational journey
Drs Trish Franklin and Wally Franklin.
The Oceania Project, Australia; Southern Cross University, Australia
In 1989, thirty years ago, we conducted an exploratory whale expedition to Hervey Bay. It was two years after whale watching operations had commenced by local fishermen and the year the Queensland Government declared Hervey Bay a Marine Park, with a single Humpback Whale Management Zone. Early research in Hervey Bay during the late-eighties and early 1990’s established that humpback whales enter and leave Hervey Bay from the north, aggregate in the eastern part of the Bay against Fraser Island and that the mother-calf cohort was the last to use Hervey Bay. However, there were insufficient data to determine the importance of Hervey Bay for particular classes of humpback whales. In late 1990 we submitted a research proposal to the Queensland Government to undertake a long-term systematic study of humpback whales in Hervey Bay and were granted a research/whale-watch permit. Between 1992 and 2009 we undertook 10 weeks of fieldwork per annum. The data obtained – now utilised in twenty-six scientific publications we have authored and/or co-authored – revealed that: Hervey Bay is a wide shallow embayment preferentially used by mature humpback females early in the southern migration. In August mature females, travelling and socially interacting with the immature cohort, use the Bay, during September and October mother-calf pods dominate and spend most of their time alone with their calves. Overall, few mature males visit Hervey Bay. The occurrence, timing and behaviour of classes of humpback whales using Hervey Bay differ from traditional breeding grounds, feeding areas and migratory corridors. The science affirms that Hervey Bay is a globally unique Whale Watch Site. In this keynote we share the story behind the science. Recent developments in AI technology are having a major impact on the study of marine mammals. We reflect on the implications for members of WCA and their role in future citizen science and consequently the global conservation and protection of whales and dolphins.
10:45 – 11:15 Morning Tea/Coffee Break
MORNING PRESENTATION SESSION: JOURNEYS THAT INSPIRE CHANGE
11:15 – 11:30. Encounters with Ocean Megafauna
Clint Hempsall. Professional cinematographer, Australia
Encounters with Ocean Megafauna shares my experiences filming some of the first dwarf minke whale research expeditions conducted in Australia during the 1990's. These projects combined scientific study with adventure tourism and helped establish one of the world's most extraordinary wildlife discovery opportunities. Even children can safely swim with minke whales in a truly low impact program where the encounter is entirely on the whales own terms. My career as a professional diver and underwater cinematographer has blessed me with opportunities to film some of the most magical creatures in the sea. Encounters with Ocean Megafuana will share tales of diving with dwarf minke whales, sharks, manta rays, sea lions, turtles, dugong and other creatures that had a profound effect on people in the water. These types of interactions can provide extremely powerful motivation for people to become more active in marine conservation. Film and still photography, from over 40 years of filming these encounters underwater, will provide engaging visuals for this presentation.
11:30 – 11:45 Diving deeper into our relationship with whales and their Ocean home
Glenn Edney. Te Wairua O Te Moananui-Ocean Spirit Charitable Trust, New Zealand
The whales (especially the migrating species) need us to understand that the Ocean is one living system. We need to comprehend and experience ourselves as a part of, rather than apart from our Ocean planet as we explore what actions we can take to secure a positive future for the Ocean, the whales and ourselves.
11:45 – 12:00 "Tails of Stellwagen - Art as Language for Communicating Science"
Richard W Dolan, Boston Harbor Cruises. New England Aquarium, USA
Artists and scientists share the practice of interpreting the world and communicating findings to a greater audience. As a naturalist for the New England Aquarium Whale Watch, I utilise the practice of scientific illustration to create visual learning materials for over 17 regional learning institutions and whale watch companies. Under the project "Tails of Stellwagen", physical fluke models are handmade to provoke engagement in audiences diverse in language, culture, and sensory ability. The whale tail sculptures are key for educating passengers with visual impairment. Care is taken in carving leading edges, trailing notches and other contours, so that a fleeting encounter in the wild can be explored in a tactile, intimate fashion. Specific model modifications include detachable segments to illustrate injury, whiteboard paint for altering fluke patterns, and accompanying tools for fabricating rake marks. An illustrated catalogue of over 100 humpback whales is also utilized on mobile devices to convey the unique quality of the species' fluke pattern. Further development will see the catalogue integrated into interactive software; passengers will be able to search for fluke patterns via an interface of keywords, and compare illustrations to photos. The physical fluke models will utilise textures mimicking whale skin and barnacles, and larger models utilised in terrestrial settings will engage broader audiences. In conclusion, Tails of Stellwagen continues to expand its visual vocabulary and strives to encourage ocean stewardship through creative language.
12:00 – 12:15 Take 3 for the Whales
Roberta Dixon-Valk. Take 3 for the Whales, Australia
Wherever we are, we are connected to the sea. The ocean provides us with the oxygen we breathe and the climate that sustains us. We need a healthy ocean for our own survival. Plastic pollution is killing wildlife, devastating oceans and threatening the health of our planet. Plastic represents a disconnection. It’s a material designed to last forever, that we often use only once. Take 3 for the Sea inspires everyone to be part of the solution: take 3 pieces of rubbish when you leave the beach, waterway or... anywhere, and make a difference to the plastic pollution ending up in our oceans. Through education that inspires participation; Take 3 is building a global movement of people (>250,000) who are connected to the planet and helping us remove more than 10 million littered items annually. Take 3’s education celebrates whales (and our other incredible marine wildlife) and tells the story of how our obsession with convenience is impacting on the species we love. Project Whale targets students - highlighting the wonder of whales, their tragic impact by plastic and empowers students to recognise and reduce their plastic footprint and that of their homes, schools and greater communities. Take 3 for the Whales!
12:15 – 12:30 Whale watching and Akrasia – an uneasy relationship?
Michael Lück1 and David A. Fennell2
1 Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand; 2 Brock University, St Catharines, Canada
Since the 1950s, whale watching, i.e. tours by boat, air or from land, to see, swim with, and/or listen to any of the 83 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, has grown significantly on all continents, with well over 10 million people engaging in this activity annually. Operations are as diverse as the species viewed and the locations these activities take place in. Equally diverse are the legal frameworks underpinning whale watching. Particularly in countries with limited or no regulations, whale watching often is a tourist activity that may be detrimental for the environment, the species watched, and the tourist experience. However, despite poor behaviour by operators and tourists, a number of whale watchers rate the experience as high, based on opportunities and behaviours these tours facilitate, such as close proximity to the animal, photo opportunities (e.g., “selfies”), touching of wildlife, feeding, and so on. In some cases, tourists are well aware of the potential detrimental impacts their activities may have, yet they still participate in these practices. This behaviour, i.e. acting irrationally is referred to as akrasia: “a deficient capacity to contain or restrain one’s desires” (Mele, 1994: 424), based on the perceived pleasure of an activity overriding better judgment—a concept that has only recently been introduced in tourism studies (Fennell, 2015). This presentation introduces some cases where wildlife tourists clearly display akrasia, and provides potential solutions to this phenomenon.
Fennell, D.A. (2015). Akrasia and tourism: Why we sometimes act against our better judgments. Tourism Recreation Research, 40(1), 95-106.
Mele, A. R. (1994). Self-control and belief. Philosophical Psychology, 7(4), 419– 436.
12:30 – 12:45 Connecting cetaceans with people living far from the sea
Ursula Tscherter. Marine biologist and educator, Switzerland
Throughout the world, human activities, like noise, plastic pollution, overfishing and climate change, impact cetaceans and their habitats. Indeed, although the majority of people live away from the coast, they still contribute to various threats of the marine environment and its inhabitants both directly and indirectly. Yet, their knowledge and awareness of such impacts is often low or non-existent. As whales and dolphins fascinate humans of all backgrounds, nationalities and ages, they are ideal and charismatic ambassadors for the world’s oceans. Environmental education is a critical method for creating societal change towards sustainable development. Ideally, it is based on direct experience of the natural world as offered on respectful whale-watching tours. These experiences combined with educational information can raise individual awareness and increase the likelihood of environmental actions at home. However, as few people have the opportunity to directly encounter charismatic marine megafauna, our challenge is to create similar experiences for people who live far from the oceans. Here, innovative environmental educational tools can play an important role. In this presentation, Ursula will reveal various materials, methods and games for presenters and educators. Ursula will show how using life-sized naturalistic models of whales, dolphins, sharks, and more can provide direct and touching in-depth experiences. These two-dimensional animals are self-made, foldable, easy to transport and handle and are affordable also for low-budget organisations. Additionally, experiential games and illustrative hands-on materials let the audience experience the marine food web, animal behaviours and more. These materials help people connect emotionally with marine life, increase their awareness of environmental global issues, support behavioural changes, and increase interest for conservation. As part of the “Project 1:1 with Animals” these materials are also great tools for educators and organisations worldwide to support their efforts in local communities.
12:45 – 13:00 To be announced
13:00 – 14:00 Lunch
14:00 – 14:15 The Transformational Power of Swimming with Whales
Mette Lubczyk. Senior Swim-with Guide, Tonga
My journey to Tonga in 2014 to swim with humpback whales changed the course of my life and, since then, the lives of many others. I would like to present some of the unique aspects of whale swimming in Tonga and share with you some of the transformations I have been privileged to see during the last five seasons I have worked as a Senior Certified Whale Swim Guide, introducing people to the world of whales. Tonga provides some of the world’s best whale watching and encounters. It is the second most important industry in Tonga and so from both an ecological and an economic standpoint, it is essential that the whales return every year and are able to maintain their instinctive behaviour patterns. As guides and licensed operators, it is our responsibility to ensure tours are conducted respectfully and sustainably. We can minimise the impact on the wildlife through such actions as following responsible guidelines, boat speed limits and avoiding swims with newborn calves. Through our work we have the opportunity to raise environmental awareness so that our guests spread the word back home. Responsible whale swimming offers highly enjoyable experiences for both people and for the humpback whales and a sustainable tourism industry for Tonga. A whale swim is an unforgettable experience and for many can result in profound healing experiences; emotional and physical. We learn so much about nature through these animals, and so much about ourselves. Interaction with these wonderful animals, combined with an environmental message for tourists is one of the most influential forces supporting ocean conservation and sustainable change. What I have seen, and continue to see, is that encounters with whales encourage people to take proactive steps to change their lifestyle and contribute to greater wellbeing for themselves and the planet.
14:15 - 14:30 What’s in the message? Unpacking message delivery in Australian whale watching tours
Dr Liz Hawkins & Dr Kay Dimmock.
Dolphin Research Australia & Southern Cross University, Australia
Whale watching offers an opportunity to engage in an ecotourism experience to observe whales in the wild. Interpretive programs offered during these ecotourism experiences seek to enhance knowledge and awareness of the species, the natural environment and conservation needs. Effective learning is influenced by the structure and sequencing of messages offered during these programs. This study examined the interpretive programs delivered on board whale watching operators in Australia, in order to review the content and timing as well as consider the efficacy of program content. Findings identify certain inconsistencies in program structure and sequencing which leads to an absence of conservation messages about the species. The findings highlight issues of uncertainty regarding the potential to fulfil participant interpretation needs by the industry in relation to ecotourism goals revealing an evident need for industry standard.
14:30 – 15:30 Workshop: How do we encourage people to act to protect cetaceans and our oceans?
Led by Suzanne Rogers, Jo White and Matthew Payne.
Human Behaviour Change For Animals, UK
Protecting Cetaceans: the human element. The root cause of arguably most threats to cetaceans is human behaviour - what humans do, or don’t do. During this discussion we will explore how understanding the science of human behaviour change can help those who care about cetaceans to increase their influence, improve the take-up of good practices, undertake strategic outreach projects and build effective campaigns. Traditionally, emphasis has been placed on an end point of raising awareness of issues rather than all the way through to behaviour change. Negative messaging has been used extensively but can make people feel too helpless to act; projects have addressed assumed barriers that are not always the same as the actual barriers to change; and facilitating dialogue between stakeholders has not always been done in a way that is likely to be the most productive. The processes and drivers of behaviour change are well documented in the health sector but are under-applied regarding conservation and animal protection. This session will outline the key principles of human behaviour change (HBC), provide examples of campaigns and projects that have applied them for the benefit of cetaceans and other wild or captive animals, and enable participants to develop several “take home” elements of their own to act on after the event.
15:30 – 16:00: Coffee break
LATE AFTERNOON PRESENTATION SESSION: EXPLORING WHALE MIGRATIONS
16:00 – 16:15 To be confirmed
16:15 – 16:30 East Australian humpback whales calving on the northern migration: evidence from the Gold Coast Bay, Queensland, Australia
Torre-Williams, L1,2, Reinke, J. 2,3, Meynecke, J.O. 2,3, Martinez, E.1,4
1Coastal-Marine Research Group, School of Natural and Computational Sciences, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand;
2Griffith Centre for Coastal Management, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia;
3 Humpbacks and High-rises, Queensland, Australia; 4 Applied and Environmental Sciences Department, NorthTec, Whangārei 0148, New Zealand
Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate to find suitable calving habitats, which include warm (19-28°C), shallow, and sheltered waters. East Australian humpback whales (E1) are thought to breed within the vast Great Barrier Reef Region (16°S to 24°S). Here, we investigated the presence of newborn calves occurring in Gold Coast Bay (i.e. 28°S) from 2013 and 2016 using platforms of opportunity and a citizen science approach. More specifically, we examined (1) initial location at which newborn calves were observed, (2) depth (m) and SST (°C) associated with these sightings, (3) relative age classification of newborns, and (4) newborn swimming direction via GPS tracking. A total of 74 newborn calves were observed and data was recorded following standard methodology. Sightings occurred primarily in July (51.4%) and August (41.9%), but also occasionally in June (4.1%) and September (2.1%). Based on diagnostic morphological features, newborn calves were categorized as Age Class 1 (n = 30) or Age Class 2 (n = 44). Results indicated that 1) parturition does occur during their northern migration, at least 1,000 km south of the primary recognised calving grounds, 2) the Gold Coast Bay can provide suitable calving habitat (i.e. warm (19.6-22.8°C) and shallow (17.2-50.8m) waters for pregnant females, and 3) the majority of sighted newborn Age Class 1 or 2 calves migrated in a northward direction. We conclude that newborn calves are present in the Gold Coast Bay from June until September. Our findings may signify that this population is expanding its calving range to the south, in waters that have no legislative protection or designation as calving areas. Conservation managers and tourism operators should plan appropriate conservation measures to ensure cows with newborn calves can utilise these waters without being negatively affected by anthropogenic activities.
16:30 – 16:45 Investigating migration patterns of the humpback whale population D and E1 using citizen science
Jan-Olaf Meynecke, Sarah McCulloch.
Humpbacks & High-rises, Griffith Centre for Coastal Management, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia
Migratory cetacean species like humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are difficult to monitor due to their vast home ranges. Acquiring extensive datasets on these animals can be expensive and time consuming. Here we explore the contemporary data sets on Humpback whales available for the east and west coast of Australia, their consistency and the potential role of these data sets in conservation and management for the species. The collection methods of data were ranging from traditional land based surveys to visual surveys; from opportunistic platforms to aerial surveys. Six data sets were selected for further analyses based on their spatial and temporal cover, as well as accuracy. Results showed seasonal patterns with different cohorts travelling along the coastlines to their respective breeding and resting grounds. An estimation of calves sighted provided an indication of the role and importance of breeding and resting areas. The findings were supported by previous research. In combination with individual identifications, the spatial and temporal variation of migratory patterns can be better defined; benefiting conservation management and the whale watch industry.
16:45 – 17:00 To be confirmed.
17:00 – 17:15 A cost-effective approach for photogrammetry of free-roaming whales
Emily A. Gregory, Vikki Schaffer, Javier X. Leon, Carmen Piza-Roca, Kylie L. Scales.
University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
Monitoring of wildlife is a critical component for achieving sustainable tourism. Whilst challenging in terrestrial environments, marine monitoring presents additional complexities. Acquiring data to monitor the status of wild animal populations is logistically difficult and costly, particularly for remotely located and migratory marine species. Rapid advancements in technology and the engaging of tourism operators may provide a practical, minimally invasive and cost-effective solution. As an emerging field, the literature is still developing. This study reports on the efficiency of a lightweight, consumer-grade remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) platform for humpback whale monitoring, observations of behavioural responses when utilising RPAs and the engaging of tourism operators for open water data collection of humpback whales. Whale length dimensions from undistorted and scaled RPA-derived imagery were analysed to mitigate measurement error and demonstrate the feasibility of consumer-grade RPA platforms for photogrammetry, resulting in whale length measurements with a mean coefficient of variance (CV) of 1.98%. Precautions for assessing negative impacts of RPA exposure for both the focal species and safety of the observing public are a key consideration to the responsible practice of RPA research with tourism operators. Observations for adverse humpback specific behavioural responses and sensitivity to the added presence of the RPA suggested no heightened or adverse behavioural change to a surface-active humpback in the existing presence of a tourism vessel. The outcomes demonstrate the potential of the use of consumer-grade RPAs as an ethical and economical photogrammetry approach for accurate morphometric assessment of free-roaming marine mammals. Assessing the requirements for effective consumer-grade RPA photogrammetry, and collaborating to ensure protocols are established, is critical to advancing aerial morphometric assessments of free-roaming, surface-active marine mammals. The resultant information will assist in advancing research using RPAs to monitor whale health, stakeholder collaboration and inform experience design for sustainable whale tourism.
17:15 – 17:30 Tired eyes no more: Automated image recognition of humpback whale fluke identification surpasses human manual matching
Ted Cheeseman, Ken Southerland, Jinmo Park, & Phillip Clapham.
Southern Cross University, Australia; Happywhale; ESTsoft; NOAA, USA
We developed and implemented automated image recognition for humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) fluke identification that has achieved matching results exceeding what the human eye is capable of. The algorithm was developed through a Kaggle.com competition, generating submissions from 2,131 teams matching 5,000 test fluke images to 20,000 identified reference fluke images. We implemented one of the winning algorithms into the citizen science and research collaboration platform Happywhale.com; the algorithm achieved near perfect match results in tests against 474 Alaskan and 846 East Australian fluke images, missing only two potential matches (99.8% accuracy). Happywhale has built a database of over 25,000 humpback individuals with at least one fluke identification image per individual through collaborating research groups and citizen science contributions. Prior to implementation of this algorithm, matching was undertaken through a combination of less accurate image recognition algorithms, research collaboration and manual matching. With the new algorithm, found matches included numerous examples of calf to adult matches with greater changes in fluke pattern than human eyes could reasonably detect. The algorithm performs extremely well with poor-quality images and images with minimally featured all-white and all-black flukes, finding many matches in catalogues that have been manually reviewed for decades. With this development, automated image recognition has surpassed functional manual human image matching, making a global humpback whale individual identification study possible, including accurate population assessment. To date the matching effort has resulted in finding a number of first migratory connections, including the northernmost migratory connection of any Antarctic mammal (between the Antarctic Peninsula and Nicaragua), the first migratory connections between Tonga and Costa Rica, and between feeding grounds in Chilean Fjords and the Antarctic Peninsula.
17:30 - Unveiling the Whale Sculpture
In preparing for the World Whale Conference, Fraser Coast Tourism & Events is working with the Fraser Coast Regional Council to develop a whale sculpture on the Hervey Bay foreshore to reinforce the region as one of the most significant humpback whale destinations in the world.
The design and construction of the sculpture is being undertaken by Sydney-based arts studio, Cave Urban, and it will be unveiled during the conference. The idea of the art piece is to leave a legacy from the conference that will be seen by all visitors. The sculpture will highlight the conference theme, “Journeys that inspire change”, using the example of the largest mammal migration on earth to challenge humans to make changes in their own lives to better protect the environment and safeguard the world for future generations.
“To underpin Hervey Bay’s connection to whales, we are undertaking a community art project to show that whales are embraced through the cultural, economic, social, and political lives of the Fraser Coast community and we are at a place where people and cetaceans coexist in an authentic and respectful way,” said FCTE general manager Martin Simons.
The art piece, to be constructed of sustainable bamboo, will represent a humpback whale and calf, signifying the importance of Hervey Bay’s annual “whale nursery” in the calm waters between K’gari Fraser Island and the mainland.
Scarness Foreshore (opposite the BeachHouse Hotel)
WEDNESDAY 9 October WWC DAY 2
Towards responsible tourism for whales and dolphins
8:30 – 9:00 Doors open, Tea / Coffee on arrival
9:00 – 9:15 Welcome and introductions
9:15 – 10:00 KEYNOTE ADDRESS: The whale watching journey. What have we learned over 50 years of growth?
Professor Mark Orams.
Sustainability Research Centre, USC Business School, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia; School of Sport and Recreation, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
Commercial whale watching began around 50 years ago and has grown to become a globally significant industry facilitating interactions between millions of people, with a variety of cetacean species, in hundreds of locations. The growth and spread of whale watching is in dramatic contrast to the majority of human’s interactions with large cetaceans over the last 50 years (and more) which were based on hunting, killing and using whales for a range of commercial products. At a simplistic level, this journey from whale hunting to whale watching, is a marvellous success story in wildlife conservation. However, over the past 30 years we have learned that whale-based tourism is neither benign nor inherently sustainable. Time and again, research is showing us that our desire to engage and interact with whales, dolphins and porpoises effects their lives. We are also learning that how we manage our interactions with these special marine creatures influences the effects we have on both the targeted cetaceans, and also on the people engaging with them. In short, we have learned that how we behave is the critical factor in determining whether this new “use” of whales is detrimental to (and therefore exploitive of) the whales, or respectful and influential in a positive way. The most famous slogan in environmental conservation history of “Save the Whales” remains relevant today, 50 years after it first became the rallying cry to end whaling.
MORNING PRESENTATION SESSION: RESPONSIBLE IN-WATER ENCOUNTERS WITH CETACEANS
10:00 – 10:45 Short talks
10:00 – 10:15 A review of commercial swim tours with Humpback whales in Australia
Raquel Trejo , Brendan P. Kelaher, Anna Scott , Jan-Olaf Meynecke, & Matt Curnock.
National Marine Science Centre and Marine Ecology Research Centre, Southern Cross University, Australia; Griffith Centre for Coastal Management, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia; CSIRO Land and Water,c/- ATSIP Building, James Cook University, Queensland, Australia
Legalised commercial swim tours with humpback whales in Australia commenced in Queensland in 2014. Since then, more than seventeen operators have initiated similar swim tours in Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. The regulations, operators’ codes of practice, and on-water management of these tours currently varies among states. Our research reviews these varying management practices and identifies issues for impact and risk management. We present survey results of swim participants and operators, alongside a review of on-water management practices, and field observations of whale behaviour during commercial swim interactions off Coffs Harbour. Our research seeks to improve operators’ and managers’ understanding of the potential impacts and risks associated with different management practices.
10:15 – 10:30 What do we know about whales in Hervey Bay and how we can protect them?
Stephanie Stack. Pacific Whale Foundation, Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia
Humpback whales have demonstrated a remarkable recovery from the threat of commercial whaling and today whale watching in Australia stimulates the economy in many coastal communities. Humpback whales in breeding stock E undergo an annual migration between their breeding grounds on the Great Barrier Reef and their Antarctic feeding grounds. Many of these whales, particularly mothers with a calf, stop in Hervey Bay, Queensland during their southern migration. Hervey Bay, a resting area for this population, is subject to various levels of vessel traffic and anthropogenic noise and this highlights the need for long-term continuous monitoring of the population using this bay. Utilising 12 years of data, we established a baseline of the spatial and temporal trends, residency patterns, and mother-calf behaviour of humpback whales using Hervey Bay. These data can now serve as a baseline for monitoring potential changes arising from the implementation of a new commercial swim-with-whales program. As part of this program, the whale watching fleet follows a voluntary Code of Conduct; however, the effectiveness of this Code of Conduct on minimising disturbance to humpback whales remains unknown. Our current research focuses on determining what, if any, behavioural changes are observed in humpback whales as a result of the swim-with-whales program. We determine this by observing whale behaviours in timed intervals before, during, and after swimmers are placed in the water. These data can then be used to provide future recommendations for managing whale watching in Hervey Bay and to balance the economic benefit of whale watching with the health of the animal population. Through these studies, we are able to build upon well-established historical baselines that can be used as a comparison to monitor future changes and ensure continued effective management of this important habitat for humpback whales.
10:30 – 10:45 Swim-with-humpback whales in Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga: Behavioural responses of mothers and calves to swimmer approaches
Lorenzo Fiori, Emmanuelle Martinez, Mark B. Orams, Barbara Bollard.
Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
Between July and October, the waters around Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga, represent a major breeding ground for Oceania humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). During the last two decades, Vava’u has become a well-known whale-watching destination in the South Pacific. Moreover, it was one of the first locations worldwide where a tour operator promoted swim-with-whales activities back in 1993. Nowadays, up to 28 licensed vessels operate simultaneously in the waters of the archipelago, focusing especially on swims with mother-calf pairs. There is, however, a growing concern among researchers, derived from empirical research on swim-with-cetaceans tourism, that this kind of interaction alters cetacean behaviour and can lead to detrimental effects for the whales involved. This study aimed to assess the behavioural responses of humpback whale mothers and calves to swimmer approaches in Vava’u. Fifty-six surveys were conducted during the 2016 and 2017 whale breeding seasons aboard research dedicated and tour operator platforms. These included 82 aerial surveys using a lightweight Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Whales’ dive time, diving frequency, and respiration rates were documented in absence (control) and presence (experimental) of swimmers. Additionally, behavioural budget was calculated and compared between control and experimental situations. Results indicate that swimming activities affected mother and calves. In the presence of swimmers; a) mothers’ mean dive time increased three-fold (P<0.001); b) calves’ respiration rate decreased (P<0.001); c) whales were twice as likely to be travelling (P=0.001); and d) mother-calf pairs spent less time (P<0.001) in a nurturing behavioural state. These findings should be of concern for Tongan stakeholders and have to be carefully considered by the governments of countries that allow swim-with-whales tourism activities. Effective strategies to reduce the risk of detrimental effects on the whales targeted by swimming activities, especially mother-calf pairs, are needed.
10:45 – 11:15 Coffee break
11:15 – 11:30 Risky business: Demographics of highly interactive dwarf minke whales during swim-with encounters
Suzanne Hillcoat, Dr Alastair Birtles, Dr Naomi Gardiner, Dr Matt Curnock.
James Cook University; CSIRO, Australia
Dwarf minke whales grow to over 7m in length and are renowned for their inquisitive behaviour. During austral winter, they regularly approach vessels and swimmers in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), often to within a few metres, and occasionally to less than a metre. While several encounter characteristics have been identified that influence interactivity in dwarf minke whales, individual variation still exists within these encounters. Inquisitiveness has been associated with specific life-history stages in some cetacean species. This represents a knowledge gap for dwarf minke whales; the relative interactivity levels of dwarf minke whales among demographic cohorts (i.e. juvenile vs adults, male vs female) is unknown. Using approach distance as a proxy, we assessed the occurrence of close approaches to swimmers in the GBR by dwarf minke whales during 23 commercial swim-with encounters in 2017. Life-history stage was established for approximately 50% of these whales, and sex was identified for approximately 20%. In contrast with other cetacean behaviour studies which have reported more inquisitive behaviour among juveniles, our preliminary results indicate no demographic influence among whales initiating close approaches; all demographic cohorts approached swimmers closely and were equally likely to engage in this highly interactive behaviour. We show that a small number of individuals are responsible for a large proportion of approaches closer than 3m. Similar findings have been reported for other higher-risk behaviours by dwarf minke whales such as physical contact with objects (e.g. ropes or vessels) or swimmers. Our results suggest that risk-taking behaviour by dwarf minke whales is individualistic, rather than associated with particular demographic or life-history stage. We will also describe our ongoing work that investigates the longer-term sightings history of dwarf minke whales to determine the influence of cumulative exposure to humans and their risk-taking behaviour.
11:30 – 11:45 “A match made in heaven? Swim-with-cetaceans programs and citizen science provide exceptionally rich opportunities for research”
Alastair Birtles, Suzanne Hillcoat, Emily Daley, Claire Barr & Martha Brians.
James Cook University, Australia
The swim-with cetaceans sector of the whale-watching industry has experienced rapid growth throughout the world, both in the number of locations offering these experiences and the variety of species being targeted. With this reliable in-water access to wild populations comes the remarkable opportunity to conduct scientific research. Seldom has dedicated research on wild marine mammals been conducted in-water; rather, most is vessel- or aerial-based and thus subjected to the limitations and biases inherent to such platforms. Thus, permitted swim-with programs may provide particularly worthwhile opportunities for scientific research in locations where interactions are extensive (either in the frequency or duration of encounters), for those species which have been poorly studied, or when the environmental conditions and/or behavioural characteristics preclude the use of more common platforms such as aerial- or vessel-based surveys. The commercial swim-with-dwarf-minke-whales industry in the Great Barrier Reef has been conducting dedicated swims for 25 years, and throughout this period has also supported scientific research by the James Cook University Minke Whale Project on this poorly-known little whale (an undescribed subspecies). The tourism targets the world’s only known, predictable aggregation of dwarf minkes, in a remote, shelf edge location in the middle of winter and these vessels provide the only practical opportunity for ongoing, dedicated research on dwarf minke whales. This presentation will describe the vast quantities of data that can be collected from these platforms of opportunities. We will demonstrate the value of this mutually beneficial relationship between commercial tourism operations and scientific research by summarising some of the findings from two particularly data-rich encounters in 2017, each lasting well over nine hours and including interactions with over 30 whales. A wealth of data on biology and behaviour were obtained with previous sightings, lengths, sex, behaviour and interactions with passengers and researchers providing vital evidence for sustainable management.
11:45 – 12:00 Exploring the influence of social media on swim-with-whale tourist behaviour: A case study of swim-with humpback whales tourism in Niue
Chantal D. Pagel1, Mark Orams1,2, Michael Lück1.
1Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand; 2University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
Swim-with-whales programmes have expanded over the past two decades and are now offered in locations as diverse as Tonga, Niue, Australia, Norway and the Dominican Republic. The availability of image capturing technology (both still and video) and water-proof, easy to use and affordable cameras is recent, but has become widespread, and is a common ‘accessory’ for swim-with-whale tourists. The ability to share such imagery, and associated commentary, via social media to a potentially global audience instantly, or with a few hours delay, is now commonplace. The growth of this form of wildlife ‘consumption’ has been rapid and, to date, no research has explored the influence of such actions on tourist behaviour in a swim-with-whales context. This research used a case study approach to explore how social media influences tourists in swim-with humpback whales activities in Niue, a small island nation in the south-western Pacific. Data were collected via in-depth semi-structured interviews with swim-with-whales tourists. Results showed that the sharing of these experiences via social media was a high priority for participants. Applications that were most popular were Facebook and Instagram. However, many participants who took a camera on the voyage made a deliberate decision to leave it on the boat rather than take into the water to be able to “fully enjoy the experience without the distraction of photography”. In this context, ‘wildlife-selfies’ were mainly perceived as negative, with participants commonly stating they would not want to turn away from their experience with the whales in order to take a ‘selfie’. These findings show that while social media plays an influential role for communicating and sharing swim-with-whale experiences, tourists were mindful of prioritising the experience for themselves. They made deliberate decisions to limit camera use and ‘selfies’ so as not to compromise the quality of their encounter with the whales.
AFTERNOON PRESENTATION SESSION: RESPONSIBLE WHALE WATCHING
12:00 – 12:15 Towards a sustainable whale watching in Reunion island in the South West Indian Ocean: assessing and mitigating humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) tourism disturbance
Ludovic Hoarau, Dalleau Mayeul, Delaspre Sylvain, Landes Anne-Emmanuelle.
CEDTM (Centre d'Etude et de Découverte des Tortues Marines), Réunion Island
The whale watching industry has grown rapidly worldwide over the last decade. Reunion Island is no exception to the rule, its coasts attract a growing number of humpback whales (HW) during the austral winter breeding season, just a few nautical miles from seaside resorts. This recent and developing industry is raising concerns about the behavioural responses of HW to whale watching (WW) and to disturbances caused by swimming-with whales (SW). A responsible observation of cetaceans was recently encouraged through a charter and a label. In 2017, a team “Quietude” was established to monitor and sensitize whale watchers at sea to ensure compliance with this charter. We assessed WW and SW activities in Reunion Island during three HW breeding seasons from June 2017 to October 2019. Currently a total of 411 hours has been spent collecting data, 105 hours of which occurred with HW behavioural recording. Observed groups were mostly composed of mother/calf pairs spending most of their time resting and nursing. Vessels were present in 85% of sightings with recreative vessels accounting for 68.4% of vessels and SW activities observed in 42% of sightings. General compliance with the charter was high (71.2%) but low with the specific recommendations on SW activities (< 38%). Swimmers were reported in the proximity of active whale groups and some agonistic behaviours were revealed, leading to challenging safety issues. Resting behaviour and nursing of HW were disrupted to a level that raised concern. HW tended to avoid vessels and SW encounters, especially when the behaviours of whale watchers were not compliant with the charter. Our results advocate for reinforcing WW tourism education, and management with an emphasis on SW activities. This could be more effectively achieved by engaging all stakeholders with the charter, in conjunction with the permanent team at sea to enhance dissemination of best practices, to raise awareness and to educate on the sustainable values of implemented regulations.
12:15 – 12:30 Whale watching tourism promoting the development of coastal communities and local professionals in Brazil
Sergio Cipolotti. Humpback Whale Institute, Brazil
Whale-watching tourism has been developed on the northern coast of Bahia, Brazil since 2001, providing local communities with a relevant tourist attraction during the winter period. The reproductive cycle of humpback whales between the months of July and November are distributed mainly on the coast of Bahia. The Humpback Whale Institute, together with the local communities, promotes the development of responsible tourism, with the training of maritime professionals and tourism agencies that participate annually in the pre-season to exchange knowledge about biology, behaviour of humpback whales and good rules to ensure animal welfare and tourist satisfaction. Annually, more than 200 professionals from the area are trained to conduct whale-watching tourism in 10 locations along the coast of Bahia, with more than 12 tourism agencies; partners of the Institute. This model, developed by the Institute in addition to the training, allows the technical and scientific monitoring by the biologists on board the tourism vessels that carry out this activity, in the generation of scientific data and providing the specific materials for the tourists to use before and during the tour. With the growth of activity in Brazil, the Institute has been developing every two years National Workshops and International Symposiums on whale-watching tourism, promoting the exchange of experiences and responsible practices for the development of an inclusive socio-economic activity and environmental awareness. The Humpback Whale Institute believes that whale-watching is excellent for public awareness against commercial whaling and for generating economic, environmental and cultural benefits for the human communities nearby.
12:30 – 12:45 When visiting whales in Juneau, Alaska – Are there enough to go around?
Suzie Teerlink. NOAA Fisheries, USA
Humpback whales are the primary attraction for Juneau’s booming whale-watching industry that has grown to include over 70 commercial vessels and caters to nearly 250,000 tourists each summer. Juneau now boasts the largest whale-watching industry in the State and is among the largest in the world. This industry generates substantial economic revenue for Juneau and provides hundreds of seasonal job opportunities. However, as vessel activity around whales has increased along with passenger traffic in local harbours, so too have concerns for 1) the welfare of whales being exposed to heightened vessel traffic and 2) the community culture and infrastructure having to adapt to accommodate this growing industry. Here, we consider recent and ongoing research to help explain the complicated dynamics at play related to this industry and identify the elements that are problematic and further, which elements can be managed. We discuss options and hurdles in managing this wildlife resource, including impact to wildlife, existing legal protections, human dimensions, and an update on existing programs and efforts to alleviate issues within this industry. Specifically, we highlight the Whale SENSE program, a voluntary stewardship and recognition program for whale-watching operators developed on the East Coast and adapted to Alaska in 2015. In Juneau, the program has been adopted by nearly all whale-watching tour outfits and, based on industry feedback, has worked to improve vessel behaviour, education, collaboration, and stewardship within the industry. Still additional tools may be necessary to address additional angles of this complex management challenge. By presenting a holistic approach to Juneau’s whale-watching industry, which considers biological and human dimensions as well as management obligations and limitations, we hope to provide a case study which includes practical management tools that could be explored for other similar resource management challenges.
13:00 – 14:00 Lunch
14:00 – 14:30 Keynote address: Doing Well by Doing Good: The Importance of Social Enterprise Models in Sustainable Whale Watching
Paul Forestell, Ph.D. Pacific Whale Foundation, Hawaii, USA
The term "social enterprise" refers to an organisation that addresses basic unmet needs or solves social or environmental problems through a market-driven approach. For nearly 40 years the non-profit Pacific Whale Foundation has funded its research, education and conservation efforts through sustainable commercial marine eco-tours. The programs are run by PacWhale Eco-Adventures, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the non-profit Foundation. This presentation will review Pacific Whale Foundation’s work in multiple venues throughout the world to achieve its mission to protect the ocean through science and advocacy and inspire environmental stewardship. In Australia, Pacific Whale Foundation has conducted the longest-running humpback whale photo-id project, including its work in Hervey Bay since 1988. We have provided on-board naturalists and naturalist training services in Hervey Bay, Eden (NSW), and Perth (WA). Our research and advocacy have been instrumental in commonwealth and state efforts to enhance protections for humpback whales. Since 2012 we have worked to fund our ongoing efforts in Australia through a duly registered commercial whale watch operation, PacWhale Eco-Adventures Australia. In collaboration with other researchers and commercial operators in Australia and elsewhere, we are identifying a growing number of ways in which pursuit of a social enterprise model promotes a win-win-win result for the environment, the public and the commercial operators. We believe it is imperative that commercial marine tourism entities recognise the importance of a social enterprise approach in order to maximize educational and conservation impacts of whale and dolphin watching, and minimise disturbance to the targeted species. Ongoing support of scientific research is an essential component of our ability to effectively manage human behaviour in the marine environment.
14:30 – 14:45 New Zealand’s Marine Mammals Protection Regulations (MMPR): Why are different user groups violating them?
Yasmine M. Elmahdy, Mark B. Orams, Michael Lück.
School of Sport and Recreation, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand; USC Business School and Sustainability Research Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia; School of Hospitality and Tourism, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand is viewed as a world leader in marine mammal conservation. It has both the Marine Mammals Protection Act (MMPA) (1978) and associated Marine Mammals Protection Regulations (MMPR) (1992) which aim to protect and conserve marine mammals via regulating interactions between commercial operators or other persons and marine mammals. Despite this management framework a variety of studies conducted in New Zealand have shown that the regulations are frequently violated by different user groups (e.g. commercial tour operators, tourists, recreationists, and the general public). Nevertheless, little research about the causes of these violations exists. To help shed light on the causes, this study adopted a qualitative research approach to determine the reasons behind the violations. Qualitative methods included 40 semi-structured individual and paired in-depth interviews with key actors (including the Department of Conservation, commercial tour operators, and researchers) who are directly involved in the conservation and management of marine mammals in New Zealand. The findings showed that the main reasons behind non-compliance with the regulations include 1) the desire to enhance the passenger experience, particularly among commercial tour operators who do not hold a marine mammal watching permit and 2) the lack of awareness and understanding of the regulations among tourists, private recreationists and the general public. The study suggests that an increase in effort in monitoring compliance along with a targeted education and awareness campaign about the regulations are crucial for the welfare of the animals and for the long-term sustainability of the marine mammal tourism industry.
Keywords: Marine mammal tourism, recreation, regulations, non-compliance, sustainable management, New Zealand
14:45 – 15:00 The legal frameworks of whale watching activities in the Indian Ocean: evaluating the most effective tools to mitigate whale-watching abuse for the “whale route” project
Stéphanie Sorby. University of Réunion Island, IRD
In the South-west Indian Ocean, (SWIO) from June to October, humpback whales migrate from Antarctica to breed and give birth along the coasts of the Vanilla Islands. These islands include Reunion Island and Mayotte (French overseas territories), Madagascar, Mauritius, Comoros and Seychelles. All these countries work together for the “whale route” project dedicated to protect whales during their migration in the area, through the regulation of anthropic activities. One of the threats involves whale-watching abuse. Indeed, the occurrence of whales during the austral winter has led to an increase in tourism in the area for whale-watching activities. In the SWIO, many legal tools are used to frame whale-watching activities, including swimming with whales. From one State to another, and even among the French overseas territories, the legal framework of whale-watching activities is fragmented and inconsistent. Various management tools exist stemming from national laws or hard law like the prohibition of swimming with whales, approach distances, time closures, but many non-legally binding tools or soft law are also implemented like voluntary codes of conduct, labelling or certificate schemes. Also, the legal frameworks of whale-watching activities result either from a top down approach (governments) or a bottom up approach (the public process on the ground). This study aims to compare the different whale-watching management tools in the SWIO and assess compliance level in order to determine the most effective legal instrument to mitigate whale-watching abuse. This research can also benefit relevant national authorities for a consistent protection through the “whale route” project. Results can be surprising as binding instruments are not often effective if they are too strict and not accompanied by means of control compared to voluntary self-regulation, which can play a key role in areas not covered by a national law.
15:00 – 15:15 The dolphin captivity problem and possible solutions
Nick Stewart. Global Head of Wildlife – Dolphins, World Animal Protection, UK
Over the past decade, the controversy regarding cetacean captivity has become more intense. The industry continues to insist that public display of dolphins and other cetaceans serve a valuable conservation function, people learn important information from seeing live animals, and captive marine mammals live a good life. But the more we learn of these animals, the more evidence there is that the lives of captive cetaceans like dolphins are impoverished, people do not receive an accurate picture of a species from captive representatives, and the conservation claims are overstated. Driven by ongoing demand from the public and the travel industry, dolphins continue to be captured from the wild or bred and housed in captivity, for display in entertainment facilities worldwide, but the tide is starting to turn.
There is no one magic bullet, but ceasing captive breeding, phasing out or stopping public shows and interactions and improving husbandry, and transferring animals to seaside sanctuaries are all possible solutions both for the current captive dolphin population and importantly, to protect future generations from captive environments. World Animal Protection outlines its work to achieve these goals: reducing consumer demand, advocating for global travel industry leadership and regulatory measures, and supporting seaside sanctuaries as beacons of hope where at least some of the survivors of this industry may retire to. World Animal Protection believes this generation of captive cetaceans must be the last.
15:15 – 15:45 Expert Panel Q&A. What does the future for whale and dolphin tourism look like?
15:45 – 16:15 Coffee break
16:15 – 17:30 IDEAS EXCHANGE SESSION! How responsible whale watching can save Planet Earth!
Measuring responsible and sustainable practices for wild whale and dolphin watching is becoming increasingly important for the travel industry and for the travelling public. In this lively and engaging session you will learn about WCA’s strategy to ensure whale and dolphin watching sets the benchmark for ecotourism and invests in communities and ocean conservation.
We will then meet operators and experts from across the whale watching industry and beyond, learn from their inspiring case studies, and benefit from some of their top tips on what it takes to run a successful and responsible ecotourism business focused on environmental, social, and economic sustainability.
17:30 – 18:30 World Cetacean Alliance Partner meeting / AGM