An evaluation of the impact of commercial whale watching on humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, in Newfoundland and Labrador, and of the effectiveness of a voluntary code of conduct as a management strategy

Corbelli, Claudio (2006) An evaluation of the impact of commercial whale watching on humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, in Newfoundland and Labrador, and of the effectiveness of a voluntary code of conduct as a management strategy. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

Despite its reputation as an eco-tourist activity, there are concerns that the growing, often unregulated whale-watching industry may be impacting cetaceans. In 2001, a voluntary Code of Conduct for tour boat operators was introduced in Newfoundland and Labrador to minimize any such impacts. -- The objectives of the present study were to test the feasibility of this new code as a management strategy, to explore the educational value of whale watching for passengers, to evaluate the effects of tour boat activity on whales, and to assess the effectiveness of code guidelines. The study was carried out in Witless Bay, the island's most popular whale-watching locale. Data were collected through operator surveys, passenger questionnaires, and observations of whale behaviour (and tour boat activities) from land, tour boats, independent research vessel, and via VHF-TDR tags. -- Operator compliance with the code was found to be low (about 25% of trips), as operators tended to control the interaction with animals and frequently entered the 100 m exclusion zone. Passengers did not seem capable of enforcing the code, as they did not know the specific rules and were inclined to interpret operator behaviour benignly. -- The educational value of whale watching was low. Formal educational deliveries developed by the investigators proved to be more effective in delivering knowledge about whale biology and the Code of Conduct. No post-trip increase in environmental awareness was detected. -- Behavioural responses of humpbacks to tour boats included the adoption of a short-range horizontal avoidance strategy and higher frequencies of some surface activities. Compliance with the code was found to have little effect, possibly reducing responses such as trumpet blowing and tail slashes, but it did not have an influence on the horizontal response. -- When boat disturbance increased (i.e. more boats and/or more code infractions), whales' blow intervals changed, indicating possible shifts of behavioural patterns (from foraging to travelling). This suggests that tour boat operators, by respecting the code or by maintaining a low number of infractions, may limit disturbance to the whales and the probability of animals swimming away from the food source. -- Recommendations for increasing the effectiveness of whale watching management in Newfoundland and Labrador are provided.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/10343
Item ID: 10343
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 265-303.
Department(s): Science, Faculty of > Biology
Date: 2006
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Humpback whale--Effect of human beings on--Newfoundland and Labrador --Witless Bay; Whale watching--Newfoundland and Labrador--Witless Bay.

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