Report of The International Workshop On The Special Aspects of Watching Sperm Whales
Roseau, Commonwealth of Dominica, East Caribbean
8th - Jnuary -11th January, 1996
International Fund For Animal Welware
With Funding from WWF World Wide Fund For Nature


"Above all other hunted whales his is an unwritten life." This quotation, from Moby Dick by Herman Melville, underlines the mystery that has always surrounded the sperm whale, the largest of the Odontocetes. Their deep-diving, oceanic way of life has made sperm whales difficult animals to observe and study in the wild. Studies of live sperm whales lagged behind those of more accessible inshore baleen whales. In the last 15 years however several groups have developed techniques which allow them to make observational studies of sperm whales in the open ocean. The use of passive acoustic techniques to find and follow diving sperm whales has been crucial to this achievement. Similarly, whale watching, which is now a multi-million dollar business world-wide, became established on inshore populations of Mysticete and smaller Odontecete whales. Increasingly however, new sperm whale watching operations, often assisted by the same passive acoustic techniques, are being established.

The world-wide growth of the whale watching industry has led to the establishment of rules, regulations and codes of conduct governing whale- watching activities in some countries. These often attempt to manage the growth of the industry and to lessen potential impacts on the whales. However there often appears to be little scientific basis for many existing measures and considerable discrepancies exist. Furthermore, many of the rules address the more commonly watched baleen and smaller toothed whale species.

Sperm whales are very different from most baleen whales however, and many of these differences are relevant to the way in which whale watching should be conducted and regulated with this species. Recognising this, the International Fund for Animal Welfare decided to convene a Workshop On Special Aspects Of Watching Sperm Whales. It was decided to hold this workshop in Dominica which, as well as being a delightful location, has a fledgling sperm whale-watching industry.

This workshop is the second in a series of workshops that IFAW intends to convene over the next few years. The first in the series, on Scientific Aspects of Managing Whale Watching, was held in Montecastello di Vibio, Italy, in April 1995. Other workshops will address social and economic, educational and legal aspects of whale watching. IFAW's commitment to convening these workshops reflects the growing importance of whale watching as a potentially appropriate way of utilising cetacean resources and the importance of conducting whale watching according to the very highest standards.

The fact that the International Whaling Commission (IWC) now recognises whale watching as a legitimate use of whale resources is of particular significance. At its 1993 annual meeting in Kyoto, Japan, the IWC resolved to "recognise whale watching as an expanding tourist industry which contributes significantly to the economies" of a number of countries and to recognise "the contribution which whale watching makes to education and to furthering scientific knowledge." Accordingly the IWC expressed its desire "to encourage the further development of whale watching as a sustainable use of cetacean resources." A year later, by resolution adopted at its Annual Meeting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the IWC acknowledged "that the regulation of whale watching activities is a matter for the responsible coastal state, rather than the Commission (but).. that the commission can provide advice to member and nonmember governments on the regulation of whale watching and the collection of useful data from whale-watching operations".

To Be Continued

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Rauno Lauhakangas