"Swim-with-whale" tourism could put stress on southern right whales
Today’s adventurous tourists want to do more than just watch whales: Some people also want to swim with the animals, and many companies are happy to oblige. But “swim-with-whale” tourism may be stressful for the whales, according to a study in Marine Mammal Science. When boats and swimmers are nearby, southern right whales tend to move around more and rest and socialize less.
Companies are offering more opportunities to swim with whales in an “attempt to provide tourists with more ‘intimate’ interactions with animals,” the authors write. In 2005, more than 50 operators provided this service.
To find out how these activities affected the whales, researchers studied southern right whales off Peninsula Valdes, Argentina during expeditions in 2005 and 2006. The research boat approached whales, and three people swam with the animals. The team observed the whales’ behavior before, during, and after the activity, both from the boat and from nearby cliffs.
When people swam with the whales, the animals spent 5 percent less time in a resting position and 3 percent less time socializing with other whales. Instead, the whales spent more time travelling. Sixty-one percent of mothers and calves moved away from the boat and swimmers.
Southern right whales at Peninsula Valdes already have to deal with other stresses, such as pollution, ships, and kelp gull attacks, and the number of whale deaths has been rising. The authors conclude that swim-with-whale tourism in the area “should not be legalized until further investigations are completed”. — Roberta Kwok | 11 July 2012
Source: Lundquist, D. et al. 2012. Response of southern right whales to simulated swim-with-whale tourism at Peninsula Valdes, Argentina. Marine Mammal Science doi: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2012.00583.x.
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