Notice to mariners! How to watch dolphins and whales in a responsible way?
Every year, individuals of different species are sighted with injuries caused by boats. Many of them are recreational vessels. In addition, the cetacean species that inhabit our waters are in feeding, breeding and migration areas, and the presence of boats around them can cause them to modify their behavior, with an obvious negative impact on their survival. Below we explain how to observe dolphins and whales responsibly and the consequences of not doing so.
What are the consequences of irresponsible behavior in the presence of dolphins or whales?
Noise disturbance (engines and echo sounders)
Cetaceans are acoustically sensitive animals that depend on sound to communicate, orient themselves during navigation and find and capture prey. Noise from boats can interrupt or completely mask the sounds of cetaceans, causing alterations in their behavior, stops in their feeding, disorientation, interruption of their rest, among others.
Disturbance due to the physical presence of vessels
The presence of boats at close range, direct approaches, cutting off the animals, dividing groups and the “chasing” and harassment of dolphins and whales by boats cause changes in their behavior: stress, disorientation, increased risk of collision and affect their survival, since the animals will end up avoiding that favorable area for them and will move to another, which may not be so favorable.
Collisions with boats
There are more and more cases, worldwide, of collisions between cetaceans and boats (both motorized and sailing) and they are considered an important source of mortality for some populations.
Collisions with whales and dolphins by vessels of any size (from zodiacs to cruise ships) can cause serious injuries, amputations, scarring and even death. These collisions do not only occur with large animals such as fin whales or sperm whales, but also with dolphins, pilot whales, and other cetacean species. Below we explain how to observe dolphins and whales responsibly and the consequences of not doing so.
So, can’t we observe these animals and enjoy their presence in the wild?
Of course, we can! We just must keep in mind that it is necessary to do it in a responsible way, to have a minimum impact on them. The observation of cetaceans in the wild in Spanish waters is regulated by Royal Decree 1727/2007, of December 21 (“Real Decreto 1727/2007, de 21 de diciembre”), which establishes measures for the protection of cetaceans and determines the code of conduct to be followed in waters under Spanish jurisdiction.
These are the following:
Aspects to consider
– You should leave the area if you observe any variation in the behavior of the animals or any alarm signal, such as a sudden change of direction or speed or blows of the fin or head, among others.
– In case of unintentionally harming the cetaceans, the competent authorities should be notified, indicating their position. The same action should be taken when a dead cetacean is observed floating.
Mandatory administrative authorization is required to carry out the recreational activity of cetacean watching.
Article 3.4 of Law 41/2010 of December 29, 2010 (“Artículo 3.4 de la Ley 41/2010, de 29 de diciembre de 2010”), on the protection of the marine environment, establishes that the observation of cetaceans will be subject to prior authorization, which will be granted by the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge.
This summer take the opportunity to observe cetaceans in freedom! And… remember well: if you are going to hire the services of a company that carries out whale and dolphin watching activities, make sure they have the proper authorization!