Research Topic

Whale-watching Impacts: Science, Human Dimensions and Management

About this Research Topic

Among tourist activities involving the observation of wildlife, whale-watching is one of the most popular worldwide and increasingly prevalent. Whale-watching includes any commercial endeavor that provides platforms for observing whales or dolphins in nature. The onset of whale-watching occurred shortly after the international ban of commercial whaling. It represents an important economical input in the regions where the activity takes place, and it is viewed as an alternative to whaling. As whale-watching grows in popularity, its negative effects on a suite of behavioral and ecological aspects are of rising concern for the welfare of a wide range of whale and dolphin species. Indeed, in some regions, the activity remains unregulated. The issue becomes critical when the species targeted during these activities are threatened, or when once-healthy populations have been severely disturbed due to whale-watching. Whale-watching should, therefore, be contextualized in terms of the population trends of the affected species. Humpback whale populations are recovering at high rates, reoccupying areas that may trigger further development of whale-watching activities. Other species such as the North Atlantic right whale has shown no signs of recovery. Whale-watching may have varying degrees of impact depending on the species’ status. Thus, it is important to known how whale-watching is affecting these species and how the management of the activity is performing.

Cetaceans live in a three dimensional and rather dark aquatic environment. They depend on their acoustic senses to conduct their daily biological activities. In contrast, to detect whale-watching impacts researchers often use land-based observations on a horizontal sea surface measuring behavioral snapshots when the study species surfaces to breathe. Although acoustic studies could add much insight into whale-watching impacts, research covering this aspect is still lacking. Detecting whale-watching effects requires study designs that unequivocally separates the undisturbed behavior of the species from the true effect of the approaching boat for observation. In this scenario, statistical design and the interpretation of behavioral responses are brought into question and there is an important need to research how we are dealing with such impacts. How we detect and describe such impacts affects the regulatory decisions of the activity.

It is also important to account for the human dimension of whale-watching. Whale-watching has consequences on society, with education initiatives and people’s awareness of conservation issues potentially being influenced by the experience of observing these charismatic species. This aspect of whale-watching is pivotal due to the impact it has on the economy of the regions where whale-watching activities are conducted.

The objective of this Research Topic is to provide a series of original research and review articles on current trends and methods for detecting whale-watching impacts on whale and dolphin behavior and populations, including observational, acoustic techniques and statistical methods. We seek papers testing whether whale-watching guidelines are successfully applied. Manuscripts addressing the human dimension of whale-watching covering social, economic and conservation aspects will be accepted. Contributions from all over the world are welcome but we encourage manuscripts coming from regions were whale-watching is at an early stage. This Research Topic will cover most angles of whale-watching thus providing important management information for conservation policies.


Keywords: whales, vessels, behavior, disturbance, human cognition


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Among tourist activities involving the observation of wildlife, whale-watching is one of the most popular worldwide and increasingly prevalent. Whale-watching includes any commercial endeavor that provides platforms for observing whales or dolphins in nature. The onset of whale-watching occurred shortly after the international ban of commercial whaling. It represents an important economical input in the regions where the activity takes place, and it is viewed as an alternative to whaling. As whale-watching grows in popularity, its negative effects on a suite of behavioral and ecological aspects are of rising concern for the welfare of a wide range of whale and dolphin species. Indeed, in some regions, the activity remains unregulated. The issue becomes critical when the species targeted during these activities are threatened, or when once-healthy populations have been severely disturbed due to whale-watching. Whale-watching should, therefore, be contextualized in terms of the population trends of the affected species. Humpback whale populations are recovering at high rates, reoccupying areas that may trigger further development of whale-watching activities. Other species such as the North Atlantic right whale has shown no signs of recovery. Whale-watching may have varying degrees of impact depending on the species’ status. Thus, it is important to known how whale-watching is affecting these species and how the management of the activity is performing.

Cetaceans live in a three dimensional and rather dark aquatic environment. They depend on their acoustic senses to conduct their daily biological activities. In contrast, to detect whale-watching impacts researchers often use land-based observations on a horizontal sea surface measuring behavioral snapshots when the study species surfaces to breathe. Although acoustic studies could add much insight into whale-watching impacts, research covering this aspect is still lacking. Detecting whale-watching effects requires study designs that unequivocally separates the undisturbed behavior of the species from the true effect of the approaching boat for observation. In this scenario, statistical design and the interpretation of behavioral responses are brought into question and there is an important need to research how we are dealing with such impacts. How we detect and describe such impacts affects the regulatory decisions of the activity.

It is also important to account for the human dimension of whale-watching. Whale-watching has consequences on society, with education initiatives and people’s awareness of conservation issues potentially being influenced by the experience of observing these charismatic species. This aspect of whale-watching is pivotal due to the impact it has on the economy of the regions where whale-watching activities are conducted.

The objective of this Research Topic is to provide a series of original research and review articles on current trends and methods for detecting whale-watching impacts on whale and dolphin behavior and populations, including observational, acoustic techniques and statistical methods. We seek papers testing whether whale-watching guidelines are successfully applied. Manuscripts addressing the human dimension of whale-watching covering social, economic and conservation aspects will be accepted. Contributions from all over the world are welcome but we encourage manuscripts coming from regions were whale-watching is at an early stage. This Research Topic will cover most angles of whale-watching thus providing important management information for conservation policies.


Keywords: whales, vessels, behavior, disturbance, human cognition


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

01 September 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

01 September 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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