Published by Mika

How does whale watching affect the whales?

We’re often asked by concerned guests whether our activities affect the whales. We appreciate these questions, because it means people are mindful of their effects on the world around them – as are we.  

In many places around the world, whale-watching might consist of hopping in a small boat with a group of other eager tourists, and then trying to get as close to the whales as possible to get the best photo.

It’s no wonder that people are apprehensive about boat-based viewing, and question whether this creates a disturbance for the whales.

Did you know that the Salish Sea contains one of the best-regulated whale-watching industries in the world, and that these regulations came from within the industry itself?

Most of the whale-watching businesses on both sides of the border belong to the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA). Since the 1990s the industry has been instrumental in creating and adhering to a set of voluntary guidelines.

These guidelines are endorsed by government agencies in Canada and the US and are revised and updated in accordance with the results of new scientific studies. Working together as an industry, our 32 operators and many vessels share sightings information, coordinate viewing schedules, and minimize boat traffic.

In Canada, current guidelines stipulate that all vessels stay 200 metres away from orcas (200 yards in the US), and 100 metres away from other marine mammals (note this graphic has not yet been updated to 200m).

There are also regulations that govern speed of vessels around the whales. Studies have shown that speed is the greatest determinant of noise level. By moving slowly around the whales we keep noise to a minimum.

We’re always very mindful that we’re visiting these animals in their home, and we maintain a respectful distance to minimize disturbance.

Of course, these large, intelligent animals have minds of their own and they don’t know the rules. If they unexpectedly decide to approach a vessel and it’s unsafe for us to get out of the way, the engines are turned off until the whale has passed and it’s safe to move away.

When you go out on a tour with a PWWA member, you’re getting a personalized, lifetime experience. We help connect you to the incredibly rich and diverse natural world that sustains not just the whales, but every living thing—including all of us.

At Eagle Wing, education is a huge part of our tours. From our informed and experienced captains and naturalists, you’ll learn all about the behaviour and life history of the amazing animals you’re viewing, as well as the interconnectedness of the rich but fragile Salish Sea ecosystem. You’ll hear about conservation measures you can take—even after you’ve returned home, no matter where that is.

By providing this kind of education and connection to nature, we’re raising awareness and inspiring the next generation of ocean stewards.

Did you know?
– Whale-watching operators and crew work with researchers to provide information on sightings, behaviour and entanglements
– Many of our guides are biologists and teachers
– Our voluntary viewing guidelines were used as a model for federal regulations
– Our captains and crew are certified by Transport Canada to the highest safety standards
– Whale-watching boats are often the first on scene during marine emergencies, helping other vessels on the water until first responders arrive
– Ecotourism vessels on scene with wildlife function as a caution sign, warning other boaters to slow down
– Private boaters often contact commercial whale-watchers by radio and ask for advice on how to maneuver around whales, or simply follow behind and mimic proper protocol

In addition, Eagle Wing Tours:
– is the first ecotourism company in the region to have its boat fleet tested for noise emission levels. The goal is to reduce our sound footprint as much as possible
– provides free tours to teachers and many school/youth groups
– offers in-classroom education opportunities by qualified marine biologists
– is 100% carbon neutral (3rd party-verified)
– is a member of 1% for the Planet
– initiated a $2 wildlife fee that goes directly to whale and salmon conservation
– since 2011, has donated $350,000 to conservation initiatives, and now donates $80,000–$90,000 annually
– has been Victoria’s #1-ranked whale-watching company on Trip Advisor since 2007
– has been recognized both locally and nationally for excellence in business and conservation

Read more here: https://www.eaglewingtours.com/conservation-initiatives/

Photo courtesy Sara Hysong-Shimazu, Maya’s Legacy.