Whale watching and sanctuaries

Page - December 19, 2006
Whale sanctuaries are places of refuge, off-limits to whaling, where whale populations can breed, feed and continue their slow recovery from years of exploitation. Sanctuaries offer critical opportunities to promote whale conservation and real, non-lethal scientific research.

There are more economic benefits to watching whales, than hunting them.

Most of the great whales are highly migratory, feeding in the nutrient-rich waters of the Antarctic before travelling to tropical waters to give birth and suckle their young. They then make the long migration back to their feeding grounds.

The body responsible for ensuring the healthy state of whale populations, the International Whaling Commission, agreed in 1979 to establish the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary, protecting whales in their breeding and calving grounds.

Fifteen years later, in 1994, the IWC established the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. This covers all waters surrounding Antarctica and protects three-quarters of the world's whales in their feeding grounds.

In addition to promoting research and conservation, sanctuaries will help encourage whale watching and the industry that develops around it.

Increasing numbers of people who have seen whales in their natural habitat are supporting global shelter for them. They want to see the whales they watch protected, not being hunted.

Whale watching

And we're not the only ones who like the idea - whale watching is a thriving industry, with more than 87 countries running whale watching operations, and generates US$1 billion in revenue worldwide each year.

But whaling is impacting the whale-watch industry in a negative way. When Iceland resumed whaling, whale watching bookings dropped by 90 percent. 

The Iceland Whale Watching Association blamed this on Iceland's whaling industry and called for an end to whaling. Iceland's tourism industry condemned their government's decision to resume commercial whaling in 2006.

Many coastal nations have benefited from the development of whale watching operations. For instance, the Dominican Republic alone nets US$5.2 million from its eco-tourism, an industry that was given a boost by the creation of the Silver Bank Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary.

In Australia, the last whale was caught in Albany in 1978. Since then, Albany has transformed the former Cheynes Beach Whaling Station into a high profile whale watching site, attracting more than 1.3 million visitors.

Under its charter, the IWC must ensure the optimum utilisation of whale stocks - more and more of the IWC's member nations have come to realise this can be best achieved through non-lethal forms of exploitation such as whale watching.

Sanctuaries are a forward-thinking measure. They make economic sense, help protect whales and encourage research on whales and the environment. They send a clear message of hope that the world is turning away from whaling and that there will be no return to the commercial hunting which devastated one population after another.