Thursday, May 18, 2006

Scientist's opinion about dolphin watching industry!

THE whale and dolphin watching industry is harming the animals, a leading dolphin researcher has warned.

Dr Lars Bejder from Murdoch University said a six-year study of the impact of tourism on dolphins in Western Australia's Shark Bay had produced some alarming results.

Dr Bejder said the study, which used data going back 22 years, showed that dolphins regularly visited by tourism operators were less successful, and had a slower rate of reproduction, than dolphins not visited by tourists.

He said the findings should not be used to stop the whale and dolphin watching industry, but to indicate ways in which its impact could be minimised.

"In the last four to five years there has been a decline of around 15 per cent in the number of dolphins using the tourism area in Shark Bay. The study also showed that the females visited by tourists had a slower rate of reproduction," Dr Bejder said.

"We now have this great data that we can use to fix the problem. This study has implications for the way we manage the dolphins and the industry to ensure it is sustainable.

"A one-off encounter with a dolphin has no implications but ongoing interaction has an impact.
"These animals only have a certain amount of energy for all sorts of interactions and if they are constantly interacting with boatloads of tourists, that impacts on their social interactions and their ability to do all sorts of other things they would normally do.

"Whale and dolphin watching is a positive industry and does a lot for conservation and the economy. I'm not saying it should end, but the results show that we can be doing it better."
Dr Bejder said only about 150 to 200 dolphins were visited regularly by tourism operators in Shark Bay, out of a total population in the area of up to 2700.

In other areas of Australia and around the world where the population of dolphins was smaller and the number of tourism operators larger, the impact on the animals would be far greater, he said.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"