How Whale-Watching Might Be Harming Whales
Researchers say the animals get stressed, see boats as predators
By Matt Cantor, Newser User
Posted Aug 30, 2014 8:11 AM CDT
A humpback whale dives near a whale-watching boat in Monterey Bay.   (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

(Newser) – Gazing at whales from a boat may seem like an animal-friendly pursuit, but new research is questioning that idea. Why? It's not just about the odd collision; whale-watching seems to stress out the whales, Nature reports following a symposium in Scotland. When they spot a boat—whose operators know where the preferred feeding grounds are—the whales may opt to skip a meal or hurry away. In Iceland's minke whales, the rush to escape looks a lot like an effort to flee a predator, with heavy breathing and a boost in speed, researchers say. Meanwhile, dolphins in New Zealand—whose numbers have been dropping, researchers find—appear to be focusing on dodging tourists rather than eating.

As for a solution, some areas suggest a distance boats must keep from the creatures, but the standards aren't usually officially required. “Whale-watching is traditionally seen as green tourism,” says a US wildlife biologist. “The negative is the potential for disturbance. That disturbance is a worry because we don’t want to do ‘death by 1,000 cuts.'" Other researchers, however, have seen benefits to whale-watching as a means of encouraging conservation work, Takepart notes. "Presentations in the symposium pointed out much good that whale-watching can do if—and that’s a big if—managed appropriately," says one. (It's not just whales who are on display: Shark watching is also a hit.)

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Showing 3 of 10 comments
Aug 30, 2014 6:17 PM CDT
You don't have to have a boat to whale watch all you need is a Wal-Mart and a shopping cart.
Sam Snyder
Aug 30, 2014 1:32 PM CDT
I guess if watching an animal in its natural habitat is bad, then they should also worry about safari's and then lets not even talk about a zoo! and its stressful for us too. have you watched those monekys in a zoo? talk about pornography !
Aug 30, 2014 1:30 PM CDT
The whales off of Cape Cod seem to go out of their way to come up to the whale-watching boats, including with their calves. These outfits also catalog each whale and track them year after year as well as register each offspring that appears. And, they educate thousands of tourists each year to the whales former plight and recent recovery. So, Im gonna go with the whale-watchers on the cost/benefit scale.