Dolphin tourism floundering
Researchers from James Cook University say dolphin-watching sites in six countries are at financial saturation point, with some so crowded they pose a risk to the mammals.
JCU’s Dr Putu Liza Mustika was part of a team that included scientists from the University of Melbourne, University of the Philippines Los Baños, Prince of Songkla University Thailand and Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.
The group surveyed the dolphin-watching industry in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines between 2008 and 2014.
Dr Mustika said they looked at seven popular sites and found that in almost every case, there are so many operators offering dolphin-watching tours that the market is saturated.
“At this point, the industry ceases to be profitable for individual boatmen who enter it, there are too many players,” she said.
Dr Mustika said she had personally counted more than 90 dolphin-watching boats in Indonesia and the Philippines.
The team said dolphin-watching boats in India (Chilika Lagoon) and Indonesia (Lovina, Bali) posed risks to dolphins due to the sheer number of boats and a lack of proper management strategies.
“We know that having too many boats around is not good for dolphins. They can’t rest and their feeding is disrupted. Mother and calf communicate via whistling and boat noise interferes with that, leading to them becoming separated,” said Dr Mustika.
She said anecdotal evidence of impacts on the dolphins was widespread, with long-time local boatmen telling of dramatic declines in the number and type of dolphins in their areas.
“The tool we developed allows a low-cost, rapid assessment of the situation at dolphin-watching sites,” said Dr Mustika.
She said the best solution was to enforce a code of practice at the dolphin-watching sites that controlled the number of boats, how close they were allowed to approach the dolphins and how long they were allowed to stay in the area.
“The dolphin watching industry in Australia, New Zealand and – looking at evidence from our research - the site in Thailand, provide good examples of how to manage this industry in developing countries.
Economic tools such as alternative livelihoods, daily boat quotas and tradable permits need to also be considered to reduce the total number of boats,” she said.
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The paper is available from Dr Mustika or Assoc Prof Welters.
In Zanzibar, female bottlenose dolphins have been shown to spend less time resting when they were within 50 meters of three or more tour boats.
The same phenomenon has been observed in New Zealand where bottlenose dolphins rarely rested when at least four tour boats were within 300 meters.
In Asia in 2008, there were 857 individual dolphin-watch operators. Researchers say today that number of operators may have at least doubled.