Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VI No. 3 July 1997

International Workshop on the Educational Values of Whale Watching

by William Rossiter

People from 16 nations, representing decades of experience and knowledge with worldwide dolphin and whale watching operations, gathered in Provincetown, Massachusetts, 8-10 May 1997. This workshop was one of a series sponsored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, and the World Wildlife Fund, and was dedicated to the memory of Steve Leatherwood. Most participants were professional scientists and educators, many had decided their future careers from a whale watch experience, and all were like family.

It was heartwarming to watch this diverse group burst into spontaneous applause as Robbins Barstow arrived. Everyone acknowledged his decades of enthusiastic efforts, including the 1983 "Whales Alive" conference and many IWC initiatives. Invited CSI observers also included Bill Rossiter and Kate O'Connell (representing WDCS/US).

Everyone had come, some at great sacrifice, because of their deep commitment to cetacean welfare. All shared a fundamental awareness of the intrinsic and practical values of whale watching, and the goal of defining the most effective and efficient methods of educating whale watchers. Many were old friends, or at least familiar names were quickly put to smiling faces. This was a very positive conference.

The educational potential of whale watching is one of our most powerful tools in the effort to have the public know, respect and care about the environment. A little awareness and common sense dictates that human impacts on the environment should be a significant concern for everyone. But that reality is obviously not getting enough attention. Co-chaired by Phoebe Wray and Carole Carlson (CSI's IWC observer as well as member of the Scientific Committee), the workshop enabled experts to share perspectives and problems. Watching sperm whales off Dominica, finbacks off Iceland, dolphins in the Amazon or southern Argentina, orcas near Norway, or the famous humpbacks of Cape Cod are very different experiences. But all are opportunities to educate the public with scientific realities and conservation concerns.

Of course there was a whale watch! Aboard the new Dolphin VIII captained by Aaron Avellar, with Dave Matilla of the Center for Coastal Studies as naturalist, we all had a classically great whale watch, with many finbacks, minkes, humpbacks and even harbor porpoises giving the workshop their own perspective. Pepper's calf breached close enough for the cheapest instamatic, and so much that one person asked that the boat move just a bit so the setting sun could be behind the whale!

The workshop's discussions and findings are available to anyone with an interest. Please contact CSI for information. One of the results will be an expert and sophisticated analysis of the most effective methods to maximize the educational values of a whale watch experience. Others will include a very useful guide to anyone considering setting up a whale watch, or going on one. This workshop certainly realized its potential for helping cetaceans.

Go to next article: Australian Whaling Report Completed or: Table of Contents.

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