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Report on the World Whale Watch Conference 2012

25 - 26 October, Brighton Hilton Metropole


Itinerary Day 1

Session 1

08.30-09.00: Arrival, coffee, informal greetings

World Whale Watch Conference09.00-09.10: Welcome and housekeeping

There were introductions from Ian Rowlands (Planet Whale) and facilitator Maria Banks (Strada Innovation). To encourage openness it was agreed that what was discussed amongst participants, and whatever opinions were expressed, would remain confidential. Participants whose first language was not English were thanked and encouraged to ask for clarification if anything was unclear. In addition it was agreed that all sessions would be as interactive as possible.

09.10-09.30: Introductions

All participants stated who they were, what company or organisation they represented, and what they hoped to achieve at the conference. A full list of participants can be found in Appendix 1.

09.30-10.00: The Vision of Planet Whale

Ian Rowlands (Planet Whale) gave a presentation explaining the premise behind Planet Whale - to encourage more people to go whale watching and to choose the most responsible whale and dolphin watch operators - together with the concept and rating system on the Planet Whale website. As part of encouraging responsible whale watching he gave a summary of the vision behind WhaleFest, the World Whale Conference, the World Whale Watch Conference, the Responsible Whale Watch Awards, and the launch of a new report by the ‘2012 Whale Watch Operators Partnership’.

10.00-10.20 Launch of ‘Responsible Whale Watching Report’

2012 Report on Responsible Whale WatchingThe ‘Report on Responsible Whale & Dolphin Watching - the commercial advantage of a sustainable approach’ was launched by James Gray of the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which provided funding for the report’s production.

Twelve whale and dolphin watch operators along with Planet Whale formed the ‘2012 Whale Watch Operators Partnership’ in order to contribute to the report (for the list of members see Appendix 3). The case studies contained within it highlight initiatives implemented by operators worldwide and the positive impact these have had on their businesses and the marine environment. It is intended that by showcasing their success it will inspire other operators to follow suit, and demonstrates the commitment of those leading the way in the industry to develop their own practical and workable solutions to both local and global issues of sustainability and environmental responsibility.     

Session 2

Introduced by Nic Slocum (Whale Watch West Cork), four of the case studies contained with the report were presented by participating Partners.

10.20-10.45: Citizen Science

Gene Flipse (Conscious Breath Adventures) introduced his case study ‘Good for the whales, good for the watchers: benefits of education, research, and conservation in whale watching operations’. He described how encouraging citizen science can be mutually beneficial to both the whales, whale watchers, and operators, and examined the use of photo-identification, acoustic recordings, plus citizen-led research, and support for scientists.

10.45-11.15: Morning Break


11.15-11.40: Whale Watch Education

Cynde McInnis (Cape Ann Whale Watch) summarised her case study ‘A Curriculum to Foster Environmental Responsibility’ which is based on the education program she has developed at Cape Ann Whale Watch over thirteen years. For her Master’s degree,
Cynde studied various learning theories and applied them to a four-hour whale watch experience - creating a curriculum for a whale watch trip that could be implemented by other naturalists and educators.

11.40-12.05: Species-specific Codes of Conduct

Duncan Jones (Marine Discovery Penzance) presented his case study ‘Species Specific Codes of Conduct Applicable to Cornwall and the UK’. He illustrated current guidelines and codes of conduct that apply in UK waters, plus those that his company have developed over the past eight years based on existing recommendations set out by various NGOs.  He then presented codes implemented by his company for six species that are encountered in the coastal waters within which he operates.

12.05-12.30: Whaling Challenges

María Björk Gunnarsdóttir (Elding) described her case study ‘Whale watching and whaling: can it really go together?’ Focusing on minke whaling and Faxaflói Bay, because of the relevance it has to their business, she outlined the challenges whaling has caused for their operation, detailed the ways they have tried working with and around the problem, and also looked at the political side of the matter.

12.30-13.30: Lunch

Session 3


13.30-14.10: Question Time

Forming a panel on the stage, members of the ‘2012 Whale Watch Operators Partnership’ instigated discussion and took questions from the floor regarding: how the Partnership started; how it could be expanded further; what worked well in 2012; what worked less well; and what more is needed. This was a valuable precursor to a subsequent break-out session.

14.10-15.00: A New Partnership to Take Whale Watching Forward

Dividing into two break-out groups, the conference took the discussion further and the following topics were discussed.

1.    It is a priority to continue to promote Planet Whale and increase its visibility – many members of the general public haven’t heard of it
2.    Ratings: how can we ensure an equal balance of reviews? People often rate something if it’s extreme in some way but very little in-between (how do we avoid falling into the Trip Advisor trap?)
3.    Think about validity of tourists’ reviews? Should there be an “experts” rating system used alongside?
4.    The enforcement of existing regulations and codes of conduct is vital
5.    There is also a need to define levels of harassment for marine mammals
6.    Education/awareness from both operators and customers key to understanding what constitutes harassment. 
7.    Partnership enables operators to contribute to discussions with other organisations / networks (e.g. IFAW, ASCOBANS, Governments, IUCN, IWC). The backing of the partnership may also assist individual operators when approaching government and other stakeholders.
8.    There is pressure for improved whale watching regulation in some Marine Mammal Protected Areas.
9.    There is a need to clarify that the ‘Planet Whale Partnership’ is separate to the multitude of other companies that are listed on the Planet Whale website
10.    What to do about companies falsely claiming to be endorsed by Planet Whale?
11.    Members of the Partnership to promote their presence on Planet Whale
12.    There should be a ‘brand of quality’ for those in the Partnership
13.    There is a high value to the Partners in networking together


15.00-15.30: Afternoon Break

Session 4

15.30-17.00: A Global Accreditation Scheme - A Way Forward or Waste of Time?

As part of the discussion about future directions for the Partnership, under consideration was the value of creating a global accreditation scheme for whale and dolphin watch operators.

Break Out Group - The Way Forward (facilitated by Maria Banks):

1.    There is an opportunity to speak as one voice - Planet Whale
2.    Here we can put forward suggestions collectively
3.    We should acknowledge/recognise existing schemes i.e. WISE, Dolphin SMART in the USA etc
4.    We can work in partnership with Governments & NGOs
5.    We should find where codes and local accreditation schemes are working within the world and benchmark/yardstick
6.    We should put in place an infrastructure to monitor on a global basis
7.    Consider creating a ‘code of ethics’ , established collectively
8.    Create our own policy and protocols and apply individually/regionally
9.    Consider an umbrella approach with individuals’ regional “codes of conduct/guidelines”
10.    Ultimately though it’s the Whales that dictate! Their behaviour drives our behaviour
11.    Species research to be taken into account – in line with scientific studies - to determine specific codes


Break Out Group - It’s a Waste of Time (facilitated by Ian Rowlands):

1.    Yes – a global scheme would be hard to regulate and enforce
2.    Yes – it would also need to be audited in some way
3.    It’s too big a project, too many languages, too many variables
4.    It would be difficult to standardise
5.    It’s “impossible”!
6.    There is a real value to cetaceans and to human communities for schemes to be local
7.    Maybe we should consider a ‘code of ethics’ instead - or a broad ‘philosophy’?
8.    There is a value in looking at an ‘umbrella’ scheme of some sort instead
Broad conclusion: there is a real value in creating a single point for the whale watch industry to reference a ‘set of values‘ and work in partnership with existing legal and non-profit organisations, but that ‘accreditation‘ and ‘codes‘ need to be implemented on a local-and species-basis.


17.00: Close

Itinerary Day 2

08.30-09.00: Arrival, coffee, informal greetings

09.00-09.10: Welcome back and check-in

After taking the opportunity to check-in with participants, two guest speakers were introduced.

Session 5


09.10-10.45: Experts in the Spotlight - Their Stories, Your Response

09.15-10.10: Swimming with Whales in Tonga

Allan Bowe (Whale Watch Vava’u / Tonga Whale Watching Operators Association) described the history of the whale watch industry in the Kingdom of Tonga. Along with detailing his role in its development, he also spelt out the triumphs and challenges along the way. Giving his vision of how responsible swim-with programmes should be run, he explained that it is the whales that should govern the interaction, and that such operations give a powerfully positive effect on the human population.

10.10-11.10: The International Whaling Commission ‘Resource for Whale Watching’

Ryan Wulff is Senior Policy Advisor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission (IWC). In this presentation he outlined the online resource that the IWC has begun to create for the whale watching industry and asked “how can this resource best help whale watching businesses?”

Some discussion points following both talks:
1.    Representatives from the whale watch industry are needed for the IWC Standing Working Group on Whale Watching
2.    Planet Whale ‘Partnership’ to consider contributing and giving input
3.    Clear need for IWC Whale Watching Working Group to involve whale watching industry to a greater extent
4.    Ryan to be the contact for the partnership at IWC
5.    Operator workshop funding is available from IWC (training-needs analysis is required to qualify)
6.    Look at meaningful data/validated research collected on board whale watch trips
7.    Look at the value of whale watch platforms in a broader sense

11.10-11.30 Morning Break

Session 6


11.30-13.00: A Code of Ethics and the Future of the Planet Whale Partnership

This session covered how a broad ‘code of ethics’ might be created, and how the Planet Whale ‘Partnership’ should move forward. Breaking into two discussion groups, the following topics were discussed.

Workshop World Whale Watch ConferenceBreak Out Group - A ‘Code of Ethics’ (facilitated by Maria Banks)

1.    What is fundamental to the make this process work?
2.    There is a need to establish an industry body with a broad remit
3.    It should be a group of Whale Watch Operators working together collaboratively
4.    Essential to look at this from the perspective of whales and dolphins
5.    Listen too to the feedback from clients
6.    Perhaps send questionnaire to clients to find out what they look for and what criteria they would use for an accreditation?
7.    Gather research on impacts on animals


Break Out Group - Future of the Planet Whale Partnership (facilitated by Ian Rowlands):

1.    Valuable to create a single, powerful voice for the industry
2.    Collaboration and sharing is powerful in a lonely ‘individual’ business!
3.    Essential to have Planet Whale lead and give clear direction (“helpful to be nagged!”)
4.    Expand as a broad global group
5.    Avoid high membership fees?!
6.    Avoid elitism but create a high benchmark (standards) and criteria (ethos/ethics)
7.    Partnership is trusted in-house advice, skill-share, job-share, and staff-training amongst members
8.    The partnership to form a ‘steering committee’
9.    Partnership to meet annually
10.     Use the Partnership as a marketing tool for members - and cross-market too
11.     Strongly market responsible whale watching
12.     Planet Whale to have contact with government officials on behalf of the ‘partnership’ (“an almost impossible task for operators”)
13.     Be the voice of the industry to shape guidelines and codes of conduct
14.     Partnership members to be distinct from others on the Planet Whale website
15.     Organise and take part in regional workshops
16.     Be the point of contact for the industry at IWC and for scientists (“attend their conferences”)
17.     Be a more powerful voice in politics and tourism
18.     Integrate into the World Whale Conference (but have own conference too)

13.00-14.00: Lunch

Session 7

14.00-15.10: Responsible Whale Watch Awards 2012

As part of Planet Whale’s on-going mission to raise the bar on responsible whale watching, the Awards ceremony was introduced by Ian Rowlands (Planet Whale). From the ‘‘2012 Whale Watch Operators Partnership’, Andre Anciaes (Turmares Tarifa) and Duncan Jones (Marine Discovery Penzance) explained the judging process:

To qualify for consideration, an operator had to score five stars from five reviewers or more on the Planet Whale Review and Rating System (a rating and review system created by five Founder Planet Whale Partners representing whale and dolphin watching and marine conservation across the world: see Appendix 2).

There were six operators that qualified for consideration by the Whale Watch Operator’s Partnership. Three whale watching businesses: Dolphin Encountours, Marine Discovery Penzance, and Turmares Tarifa, formed a reviewing panel and evaluated the Planet Whale reviews for the six operators that qualified, along with looking at the operator’s websites, and more – viewing from both the perspective of a potential customer and as a professional whale watch operator.

The final vote to determine the winner was taken by the delegates attending the conference. The three finalists all presented their businesses, either in person or by video for those who could not attend, and the results were announced.

We were delighted to announce Gene Flipse of Conscious Breath Adventures  (Dominican Republic) as the Winner of the Responsible Whale Watch Award for 2012!

Runner-up awards went to John and Linda Rumney of Eye to Eye Marine Encounters (Australia) and Nancy Black of Monterey Bay Whale Watch (USA). Eye to Eye Marine Encounters, who were at WhaleFest 2011 but were unable to attend this year, sent in a video presentation and their award was collected by Lucia Walker of Planet Whale Partner ‘Dolphin Encountours’ (Mozambique). Monterey Bay Whale Watch also provided a video and their award was collected on their behalf by friend Sandra Pollard-Snowberger (Canada).

15.10-15.30: Afternoon Break

15.30-15.45: ‘Save the Whales: Reloaded’

From the World Whale Conference taking place next door, Dylan Walker (Planet Whale) and Dr Mike Tetley (marine ecologist and mapping expert) gave a summary of the achievements of the World Whale Conference, bringing non-profits, businesses and individuals together to map critical areas for whales, dolphins and our oceans.

Session 8


15.45-16.45: Conclusions and take-away thoughts

A final in-a-circle session went around the participants to give each a chance to evaluate what had been gained, what was needed, and any other thoughts that they might not have felt had been expressed. It was indeed a powerful conclusion to the two days, and included a commitment from Planet Whale to create an action plan to take the Partnership forward in 2013. This action plan will be discussed and completed in January 2013.

16.45: Close


Participants broke to add their input to the final session of next-door’s World Whale Conference mapping campaign - an invaluable tool for the interests of the whale watch industry - and to prepare for the following two-day public WhaleFest.

2012 Whale Watch Operators Partnership:Click here to read more about the partnership
Whale Watch West CorkDolphin EncountoursTurmaresMarine Discovery PenzanceArctic Whale ToursElding
FIRMMHebridean Whale CruisesWhale Watching PanamaConscious Breath AdventuresCape Ann Whale WatchDolphin Adventure