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Whale watching not whale hunting

At WDC, we believe in offering positive alternatives. We don’t just say that captivity is wrong, we work to create sanctuaries. We fight to stop whaling and dolphin hunts, but we also support the whale watch industry all over the world.

Whales are awesome - they inspire intense emotions in humans when we encounter them in their natural environment.  There’s something about seeing a whale or dolphin powering through the water that makes it an unforgettable experience. It’s their size, their mystery, their intelligence - we can see ourselves in them and yet they are utterly other.

A humpback mother and calf
A humpback mother and calf

Humans want to experience whales and dolphins and in response, the whale watch industry has grown enormously over the past few decades. Whale watching is a powerful tool in our efforts to end whaling.

Of course, whales have the right not to be killed, but when we can also demonstrate that they are worth more to individuals and to economies alive than dead, then we start to persuade individuals and communities to move away from hunting whales in favour of taking people out on the water to experience them.

One place where this approach is illustrated perfectly is Barrouallie, a beautiful town on the West coast of Saint Vincent, mainland of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The Caribbean Sea washes the beach and is home to incredible marine life. The scenery is so stunning that the nearby beach of Wallilabou was chosen as the backdrop to the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl movie.

Sadly, Barrouallie is better known for the hunting of pilot whales, orcas and some species of dolphins. Since 2014, WDC has supported a project called Promotion of Responsible Whale Watching in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines which is run by Argentinean organisation and WDC partner, Fundación Cethus, in cooperation with the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Preservation Fund (SVGPF), a local conservation group.

Until recently, there were three active whale hunters in Barrouallie, but one of them has now decided to give up whaling. Lennox Stephens has signed an agreement with the SVGPF committing to giving up his harpoon in exchange for help with developing an eco-tourism business. As part of this assistance, Lennox was invited to visit Fundación Cethus Argentina for training on responsible eco-tourism. Kirk Grant, a fisherman and tour operator from Barrouallie, went along too. Kirk is a friend of WDC, having visited our North America office in Plymouth, Massachusetts last year to learn about how New England’s prosperous whale watch industry grew out of its long whaling history.

If you are a WDC supporter, you may remember our interview with Kirk in your supporter magazine, Whale & Dolphin.

From left: Carolina with Lennox and Kirk at Península Valdés
From left: Carolina with Lennox and Kirk at Península Valdés

With funds provided by SVGPF, Lennox and Kirk flew to Buenos Aires and from there to Patagonia, where they had first-hand experience of whales in Península Valdés. Península Valdés was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 for the role it plays in conservation efforts for the Southern Right whale amongst other species of marine mammals. It is also one of the top five international destinations to see whales and dolphins. You probably know it as the place orcas famously beach themselves to catch sea lions at the water’s edge.

From just seven people taking whale watching tours in 1972, an average of 100,000 people now visit the Peninsula every year to experience the remarkable whales and dolphins found in these waters, making it a world-renowned case study for the development of whale and dolphin watching operations.

Lennox, Kirk and Carolina give a radio interview on a local station
Lennox, Kirk and Carolina give a radio interview on a local station

In Argentina Carolina Cassani, a member of Fundación Cethus staff, guided them through an activity plan designed to show them how eco-tourism in Patagonia encompasses not just whale watching but also opportunities to experience other wildlife and helped them to understand that eco-tourism can have many components, even including experiencing local culture, food and traditions.

The five-day workshop in Patagonia taught the participants the principles and practice of responsible whale watching as well as basic whale and dolphin biology. It provided them with the foundation to develop, run and promote a sustainable and popular eco-tourism operation that has the potential to bring significant economic and employment opportunities to their community.

When Lennox and Kirk returned to Saint Vincent they held a press conference to share their experience with the wider St Vincent community. Lennox explained that he had decided to give up whaling to explore the alternative business of running wildlife tours instead because over the years he has seen the numbers of whales and dolphins decreasing.

We’re thrilled to be able to support this transition from whaling to eco-tourism in Saint Vincent.

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