Whale-friendly tourism: 5 ways to take a responsible whale-watching trip

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As a recent US report suggests populations of the California Blue Whale are almost back to pre-whaling levels, leading ethical travel agent, responsibletravel.com, suggests five ways that concerned travellers can help support and protect vulnerable wild whale species.

Responsible whale watching initiatives for tourists may...also give economic value to the protection of these animals in their natural habitats

Researchers from the University of Washington writing in the journal, Marine Mammal Science, say that levels of this species are now at 97% of their historic levels, a result of monitoring and measures being taken to control hunting. However in Antarctica, blue whale populations are at only 1% of their historic levels. Alongside declines brought about by international commercial whaling, reports have also found remaining populations are at risk from collisions in international shipping routes.

Although by no means the sole answer, responsibletravel.com Managing Director Justin Francis believes responsible tourism can contribute towards whale conservation.

“In countries with vulnerable whale populations, responsible whale watching initiatives for tourists may not only support conservation and monitoring programmes, but also give economic value to the protection of these animals in their natural habitats.

“Additionally, well-run wild whale watching trips can be of real educational value, with tourists returning home more aware of the pressures facing whale populations and keen to support ongoing conservation work."

This point is highlighted in responsibletravel.com's new 2 minute guide to Sri Lanka (http://www.responsibletravel.com/holidays/sri-lanka), where whale watching trips to see blue whales and other species are becoming more popular. It says, "Whale watching is becoming big business here, especially around Mirissa and Galle, so be careful whom you go out on the seas with.

"At the moment there is almost no government regulation in place with regards to whale watching, so the more people who ask for responsible whale watching, the better."

Here are five things concerned tourists can do to support and protect populations of whales in the wild.

1.    First and foremost avoid supporting captive whale facilities - The beauty of these animals is found in their intelligent natural behaviour, social interactions and curiosity – best seen when they’re swimming in the wild, rather than performing in a show.

2.    Ask questions - To help find a responsible whale watching tour operator who will respect the animals and want to educate their guests with expert guides. Boats should always slow down when whales are spotted, only ever approach from the side and respect maximum approach distances. Look for information on this, or a responsible tourism policy on the operators’ website.

3.    Join a research trip - Not only are tourists able to learn more about these incredible creatures, they will be directly contributing to ongoing conservation and monitoring work.

4.    Consider land-based whale watching – eliminate the need for a boat and the disturbance it can cause altogether. Hermanus, on South Africa’s ‘Garden Route’ offers some of the best land-based whale-watching in the world.

5.    Be patient – it is a privilege to watch whales in their natural habitat and to share a few moments with them. While waiting ask questions about the whales, their environments and other local wildlife. Responsible, knowledgeable skippers will encourage patience and be keen to share this information with you.

More tips and advice are available in responsibletravel.com's 2 minute guide to whale watching - http://www.responsibletravel.com/holidays/whale-watching

Notes to editors:

About responsibletravel.com

responsibletravel.com is the world's leading online travel agent for responsible holidays and a pioneer of responsible tourism. Started in 2001 with backing from Dame Anita Roddick of The Body Shop the site's mantra is 'travel like a local'. It sells holidays that are about more than just a brief stay somewhere - instead it is travel that offers a real connection with the people, the landscape, the culture, the food and the environment. It offers over 7,500 responsible holidays from over 3,000 holiday providers which all support communities and conservation. Handpicked local specialists provide authentic holidays for those seeking adventure, culture, or luxury whether travelling with family, joining a small group or looking for tailor-made experiences worldwide, in destinations as diverse as Morocco - http://www.responsibletravel.com/holidays/morocco, Norway - http://www.responsibletravel.com/holidays/norway and Turkey - http://www.responsibletravel.com/holidays/turkey

In addition responsibletravel.com:

  • founded and organises The World Responsible Tourism Awards, celebrating 11 years at World Travel Market this year.
  • campaigns for positive change in the travel and tourism industry.

CEO Justin Francis has been included in Courvoisiers The Future 500, Thames and Hudsons 60 Innovators Shaping Our Creative Future and taken his place on the Advisory Board of The International Centre for Responsible Tourism at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The company is based in Brighton's North Laine district, England.

Sarah Bareham
01273 829 269 (UK)

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