Whale & Dolphin Watching: the Sri Lankan Experience. Anoukchika D Ilangakoon

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1 Whale & Dolphin Watching: the Sri Lankan Experience Anoukchika D Ilangakoon

2 Resource Potential In terms of whale and dolphin resources Sri Lanka is at a huge advantage to become a major whale and dolphin watching destination in the IORA region, due to several factors: High species diversity (27 spp) and year-round abundance Highly charismatic species like the blue whale, sperm whale and spinner dolphin being among the most common cetaceans around the island. Occurrence of many species close to shore due to being an island with a narrow continental shelf.

3 Background to Whale Watching Whale & dolphin watching unfortunately did not start as a well planned and sustainably managed economic activity in Sri Lanka. It just happened because there were whales & dolphins close to shore, there were tourists who wanted to see them and a few enterprising boat operators decided to start whale and dolphin watching around Soon the formal tourism industry realized the economic potential and with no regard to sustainability or the welfare of the resource, went on a huge media and marketing blitz before any regulatory framework or infrastructure was put in place. Thus whale watching was prematurely born in Sri Lanka and since then it has spread and grown exponentially with >80 registered vessels being operated today from at least three main sites while the regulatory mechanisms are still struggling to catch up with little success so far.

4 Results the Good Yes, Sri Lanka is now on the worlds whale watch destination map as a place with: High encounter rates and a variety of species One of the best places to see blue whales Some whale watch operators have provided limited platforms of opportunity for research. The industry has received further publicity through an influx of international photographers and film makers though not all have operated in a responsible manner.

5 Results the Bad The huge publicity and marketing campaign to popularize whale watching took place with no: Regulations or codes of conduct in place. Licensing scheme in place. Monitoring of any sort in place. Education or training in place. The expanding unregulated industry became competitive leading to cowboy behavior around the animals causing: Harassment, disturbance and possible displacement of animals from their preferred shelf-edge upwelling related feeding areas. Danger to whale watchers with an accident waiting to happen.

6 Harassment of Whales Danger to Whale Watchers

7 Results the Bad Persistent harassment started displacing whales from favoured inshore feeding grounds into the busy international shipping lane further offshore. This in turn has led to an increase in fatal vessel collisions and caused a problem in relation to another economic activity in the country which is shipping and presently there is an ongoing debate in relation to shifting the shipping lane.

8 Results the Need to Regulate Meanwhile the industry itself was beginning to suffer as: The whales/dolphins were becoming harder to find and the trips were becoming longer, consuming more time and fuel. Tourist experiences were becoming less enjoyable and some bad publicity began to appear on social and other media both nationally and internationally. In an effort at damage control: Hastily framed regulations put in place in September 2012 are as yet ineffective in controlling the situation and now being revised. Some of the larger whale watch operators requested help in the form of training for boat crews in an attempt at self regulation and some training provided on an ad hoc basis, not all adhere even at present, with the majority still continuing in their old ways.

9 Lessons to be Learnt There are many lessons to be learnt from this Sri Lankan experience: Never take the cart-before-the-horse approach that we did because we nearly destroyed this valuable resource before we could develop its potential and are now really struggling to bring controls into place and make the industry sustainable. Always make sure effective and practical regulations and licensing schemes are in place before developing or at least marketing a whale watching industry because: It is easier to enforce regulations that are well formulated and appropriate than start with weak regulations and try to revise them later. It is so much easier to control boat behavior at the initial developing stages of an industry before people get into bad habits which are hard to change later. Provide proper training and certification to industry personnel especially boat crews before certifying them to operate whale or dolphin watching tours. The training should include all aspects such as safety of the animals, safety of the tourists and accurate information on the life history and behavior of the animals in order that they know how to operate around them and avoid harassment.

10 Take Home Message from the Whales and Dolphins off Sri Lanka Don t put the boat before the whale please! Don t drive away the whale that lays the golden egg!

11 THANK YOU

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