The World Whale Conference will achieve three important goals for cetaceans in tourism:
Agree a set of Global Standards that protect cetaceans in tourism by combining current best practice guidelines, advice from practitioners, and the latest scientific research into one resource.
Create an International Advisory Committee for Cetaceans in Tourism (both in the wild and in captivity) to oversee the agreed Global Standards.
Seek endorsement for both the Global Standards and Advisory Committee from national and international institutions, regulatory bodies, governments, NGOs, and the travel industry.
Over the last 50 years, the way that people have interacted with cetaceans through tourism has been governed by guidelines and legislation drawn up by national and international institutions, regulatory bodies, governments, NGOs, and travel industry associations.
The result is a vast number of guidelines for cetaceans in tourism. Whilst these guidelines have been important in improving standards, they have often proven impractical or difficult to implement. Many have replicated pre-existing guidance without, for example, due consideration for the latest science or practical application. Meanwhile, practitioners faced with several sets of guidelines applied by different organisations have sometimes found themselves in the impossible position of breaking one set of guidelines in order to adhere to another. Finally, guidelines have often been set without due consideration for monitoring or enforcement, rendering them ineffective from the start.
Today, with a fast-shifting change in public sentiment towards captive cetacean facilities and an increasing demand to see cetaceans in the wild, the need for a globally agreed set of minimum standards and best practice guidance is paramount. The World Whale Conference will attempt, for the first time, to coalesce the best elements of existing guidance from around the world into an up-to-date set of Global Standards based on current science and expert analysis.
It is also our intention to work alongside our WCA and external Partners to form an International Advisory Committee for Cetaceans in Tourism (in the wild, in captivity, and in sanctuaries) to oversee the agreed Global Standards and ensure the continual development of these guidelines in future. This Advisory Committee will provide official advice to the travel industry, independent auditors, governments, NGOs, and the travelling public. Our vision will be for clarity through a consistent approach and for the highest standards to be implemented as widely as possible. Finally, the agreed Global Standards will also be implemented through the Whale Heritage Sites programme to ensure that entire destinations, as well as individual operators, are meeting the required standards.
Away from captivity and into the wild
Progress towards responsible tourism for cetaceans continues to be made at a pace few would have thought possible before the release of the Blackfish film in 2013. We are moving into a phase where the expectation sits firmly with key tourism industry players to show the leadership on this issue that the travelling public increasingly expect. We welcome and support the efforts of representatives across the industry as we move towards a time when ‘retirement’ sanctuaries become a reality, and wild whale and dolphin watching becomes the primary form of cetacean tourism.
Towards responsible viewing in the wild
As concern about the welfare implications of keeping cetaceans in captivity continues to rise, the travel industry is increasingly seeking viable alternatives for watching whales and dolphins in the wild. This conference intends to make progress on methods used to assess standards for whale watching, through individual tour suppliers and with a destinations approach. To provide a method of assessing sites, the World Cetacean Alliance has developed and launched a scheme called Whale Heritage Sites – a globally recognised way to identify destinations leading the way in sustainability and responsible management of wild whale and dolphin watching, and generating an appreciation of the culture and heritage surrounding cetaceans and their habitats.
Viewing whales and dolphins in the wild has, increasingly, become preferable to visiting a zoo or aquarium. The whale-watching industry is growing from strength-to-strength, attracting more than 13 million participants across 119 countries and with a value of $2.1 billion USD annually (IFAW 2009).
Whale watching has huge potential to bring benefits to both whales and people, but it needs to be undertaken responsibly. It is imperative that experiences are carried out dutifully to bring sustainable benefits not only to the operators and local communities seeking a livelihood, but also the participants, cetaceans, and the marine environment as a whole.
The World Whale Conference will be an important milestone in making tourism a powerful tool for protecting cetaceans and the many people whose livelihoods depend upon them. Join us as we look to the future!