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WHALE WATCHING GUIDELINE COMPLIANCE

Voluntary operational procedures (guidelines ) have been established by the whale watching industry in the northeast region of the United States, in cooperation with government agencies and non-profit conservation organizations. Their intent is to avoid harassment and possible injury to large whales by both commercial and recreational vessels. One important aspect of these guidelines is a series of recommended speeds within various distances of the whales. To measure compliance with this aspect of the guidelines, we places inconspicuous observers onboard thirty-five commercial whale watching trips that occurred in and around the SBNMS. Observations were made from August to October 2003. Vessel speed and position was measured using a WAAS-enabled GPS receiver with an accuracy of approximately 3 meters. Data were collected at five second intervals from the time of departure from port until the vessel's return. Military-grade binoculars with internal laser rangefinder and digital compass were used to record the range and bearing to sighted whales, allowing their location to be calculated. Both data sources were processed and mapped using ArcView GIS. Compliance was evaluated by creating guideline specified speed zone buffers around the sighted whales and overlaying the with the vessel track and speed data. Speeds in excess of those prescribed by the guidelines were considered non-compliant.

Whale Watch Zones

Whalewatching guidelines for the Northeast Region including the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (Credit http://www.nero.noaa.gov/shipstrike/doc/guidetxt.htm)

Results indicated that whale watching vessels often ignored speed zone guidelines and that the degree of non-compliance increased as distance from the whale(s) increased. Non-compliance levels were 63% in Zone 1, 92% in Zone 2 and 94% in Zone 3.

Financial support for this research was provided by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

PRESENTATIONS
Carlson, C., Wiley, D. N., and Moller, J. C. 2005. Compliance with voluntary speed guidelines by the commercial whale watching industry in and around Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The 16th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Society for Marine Mammalogy; San Diego, CA; December 12-16.

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