Whale & Dolphin Watching: The Cruelty You Don't See

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

Usually, when sea creatures are subjects for making money, it is harmful to them. Take dolphin & killer whale shows for example. Whale and dolphin watching consists of a marine biologist or teachers(s) that take guests on a boat to see different types of whales and dolphins, depending on the season. And of course, they make money out of it. So, is it harmful to them?

This activity exists in different parts of the world, Iceland, South Africa, Mexico, Western Scotland, Norway, and Colombia, among other places, forming 120 countries total. But the industry that makes most guidelines for Canada and the US is the PWWA (Pacific Whale Watch Association). The PWWA tells the vessels to stay 200 meters away from orcas (200 yards in the US), and 100 meters away from other marine mammals and to move slowly near them (to prevent loud noises). The guidelines are to make a minimum disturbance to the mammals in their homes. Although, one study found that killer whales increased their swimming speed when boats were within 400 meters of them, and another found that this happened within 100 meters.

There also are many trips without firm regulations. Nature cited a study that noted only 38% of codes relating to whale-watching were binding. The rest, if they exist at all, are purely voluntary. Even with those, animals can still be hit and injured by boats.

A study that modeled the effects of vessel noise on killer whales indicated that between just 30 and 50 minutes of exposure, and at a distance of 450 meters, a temporary shift in hearing threshold could occur. Prolonged exposure to the superimposed sounds of several boats, which many whales endure, is likely to cause permanent shifts in hearing. Remembering that most of these trips last for 3-4 hours and within 200-100 meters distance to the animals. This is devastating for a species that relies on sound and echolocation for feeding and maintaining social bonds.

Even though there is a large distance, low noise, and the engine is turned off so the mammal can pass by, how can we know how they truly feel about it? Putting in our eyes, it would be like a UFO appears in the sky keeping its “distance” and making low noises, how would you feel? Sea mammals respond to boats as they respond to predators.

Another thing to keep in mind is that we aren’t talking about one single boat going to visit these animals, we are talking about multiple boats visiting these animals multiple times in the same day! It is a big industry. At least 13 million people go whale watching every year and it is an industry estimated to be worth $2.1 billion, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and it is still growing.

Negatives Impacts

Short-term impacts include interruptions to their activities, such as eating, searching for food, resting, nursing and taking care of the young; as well as changes to their swimming, taking more frequent and deeper dives, and drastic changes in direction. If there are multiple vessels, their behavior change will be more drastic. If the mammals are present in frequent whale watching activities, these short-term impacts can turn into long-term.

Long-term impacts include decreasing population size or a movement of animals away from the area targeted for tourism. A series of studies in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, clearly documented a subsequent 7.5% annual decrease in population numbers.

Non-visible effects also take place when dolphins and whales are subject to prolonged boat noises. Increased levels of the stress hormones cortisol and aldosterone, which were measured in dolphins that were capture in nets, can be detrimental to marine mammals. Prolonged or cumulative stress is known to be linked to disease and lower rates of survival. Shifts in hearing can be momentary, but if the mammal has contact with the noises of the boat for too long, it can be permanent.

*Mothers and calves are the most vulnerable to almost all of the potential negative impacts.

The only “beneficial” impact industries state there is in whale watching is that it spread awareness, educates, and encourages different generations to take care of the oceans. "It has huge benefits for people and the animals themselves as it turns people on to the magic of whales and dolphins," says Ms. Williams-Grey. "This hopefully translates into a greater understanding of their conservation needs and a determination to help protect them against the myriad threats they face in the marine environment.

...Rather hypocritical.

Whale and dolphin watching (as well as other sea creatures’ money-making activities) is very harmful to them. The negative impacts heavily outweigh the “positive” impacts. If we are looking for learning about these creatures, and want to spread awareness, we shouldn’t be doing it by hurting them!


https://www.eaglewingtours.com/articles/whale-watching-affect-whales/ https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-14107381 https://wwhandbook.iwc.int/en/responsible-management/benefits-and-impacts-of-whale-watching https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/whale-watching-can-actually-be-harmful-whales-180952496/

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