How to prepare for the best possible experience?

Have you always dreamed of watching dolphins and whales in nature? Do you want it to be a wonderful experience without causing disturbance and harm to the animals? We explain what to know and what to do to experience these magnificent moments in awareness.

By clicking on each of the titles below, you can learn more about each topic covered.

Have you always dreamed of watching dolphins and whales in nature? Do you want it to be a wonderful experience without causing disturbance and harm to the animals? We explain what to know and what to do to experience these magnificent moments in awareness.

By clicking on each of the titles below, you can learn more about each topic covered.

What is responsible whale watching?

By whale watching, we mean the observation of whales and dolphins (cetaceans) in their natural environment. The term dolphin watching does not formally exist, but it's used by operators who in the area of ​​activity encounter only dolphins and rarely larger cetaceans such as whales. This helps to avoid false expectations of tourists.

In short, whale watching is a responsible activity when it respects principles and guidelines or codes of conduct identified by institutions, agreements and organizations recognized in the protection of cetaceans. Codes of conduct are rules that whale watchers follow to minimize the negative impact this activity can cause on dolphins and whales. Compliance with these rules allows dolphins and whales to decide the nature and duration of the interaction with the boats.

Why is it crucial conducting whale watching responsibly?

Is whale watching having a negative impact? If you were wondering this, the answer is yes.

Imagine being in your home. Some people walk in without asking permission and start walking around talking as if to wake the dead while you are eating, resting, or helping your child with homework. You will struggle to tolerate all of this for a few minutes. Surely you also want it to stop happening. Now imagine this situation repeating itself several times a day for months. You will not be able to do what is vital to you (eating, resting, socializing), but you will get angry, and your heart rate and blood pressure will increase. You will be heavily stressed, with very negative effects on your health.

Dolphins and whales are already undergoing all of this. Let's try to explain this parallelism most shortly and simply possible. Dolphins and whales are particularly exposed and threatened in their survival by many human activities and their effects; here is a list:

  1. Climate changes;
  2. Chemical pollution;
  3. Accidental catches in fishing gear (a phenomenon known as "bycatch");
  4. Collision with ships and motorboats (marine traffic);
  5. Noise pollution: it makes communication difficult and complicates other necessary activities such as hunting);
  6. Habitat loss, reduction and deterioration.

Whale watching can help increase the negative effects of points 4, 5 and 6. In addition to the marine traffic already present, whale watching operators can:

  1. Increase the risk of collision if manoeuvres, in the presence of animals, are not accomplished correctly. In this case, you could observe the dolphins increasing their speed to avoid the boat by changing the direction all the time or increasing frequency and diving time.;
  2. Extend and intensify exposure to noise pollution with their presence by disturbing their communications and other fundamental activities;
  3. Distract and disturb them from vital behaviours such as mating, breastfeeding, hunting, socializing and resting.

The negative impact increases in the presence of "vulnerable" individuals such as pregnant females, lactating females and puppies. In the seas of our home, this happens in the summer, when marine traffic reaches its highest levels and the females give birth to their cubs. In conclusion, all this reduces the possibility of survival of individuals and the population, with harmful effects in the short, medium and long term.

This does not mean that we must give up these activities, but we must encourage operators who put the welfare of dolphins and whales and the safety of their guests on board first. And there is more! A qualified operator can do a lot to promote the protection of cetaceans.

What to check and what questions to ask when booking a tour?

If you care about cetaceans and environmental sustainability is the primary value for you, you will want to choose a responsible operator and live an experience in line with your principles. Furthermore, a responsible operator will much more easily meet the very high quality of service levels.

But how to understand if an operator complies with these criteria? Here is some information you can check for yourself on the operator's website or possibly ask to contact them if it is missing or leave you in doubt.

Do you respect local, national or international guidelines or codes of conduct for the observation of cetaceans? How can you ensure that the disturbance to animals is minimal?

Let's see in order which situations are to be preferred and why:

  1. The best condition is when an operator owns a certification issued by recognizable and reliable organizations through a certification process. The certification is released based on the possession of specific skills obtained through an appropriate training course with a final evaluation. Compliance with the guidelines is periodically checked and verified by independent third parties;
  2. The operator voluntarily adopts a code of conduct. It is an acceptable condition and demonstrates the goodwill of the operator to reduce the disturbance, in the absence of local regulations or accessible certifications. However, anyone could answer in this way. Ask how nuisance on animals is reduced - an honest operator will be able to provide convincing examples.
  3. The operator does not respect a code of conduct: it is a condition to be avoided.

Asking this question serves to make the operator understand that you are aware of the disturbance of dolphins and whales and that, as a potential client, you consider it an important point. If this information is not present on the website/office, it becomes essential to ask it. As consumers, you have the power to push the development of the sector to be more sustainable and respectful of the environment and animals.

Progetto Natura has the High Quality Whale Watching® certification. We are subjected to regular incognito checks to verify compliance and validate the certification to guarantee the welfare of the animals and the quality of your experience.

Are there naturalists/biologists/researchers or certified guides on board? Are you doing educational activities on board?

On board, certified guides enrolled in special registers (regional or associations recognized by the competent ministry) should always be guaranteed and provides the customer with competence and safety. Often, but not always, a certified guide aboard a whale watching operator is a naturalist or a biologist. If researchers are present, even better!

A good nature guide must be able to:

  1. Provide interesting information on the species you hope to see, tell curiosities about their life and tell you about the threats to which they are exposed;
  2. Provide information on the local marine and coastal environment;
  3. Explain the behaviour of the animals you are observing.

A good guide will make your experience educational and fun even if you don't spot dolphins and whales (it's important to remember that there is always a risk when working with animals in the wild).

On board, you will find certified Interpretive Nature Guides and scientific researchers from the non-profit MareTerra Environmental Research and Conservation. The researchers have studied the local population of dolphins since 2012. We created an environmental communication to satisfy all the curiosities about these extraordinary animals without forgetting that we are together to have fun.

Do you contribute to research and conservation in any way?

The best you can ask for is taking part in a whale watching tour with researchers on board. Assisting and contributing with one's participation in research activities adds a new and unique dimension to the experience; this is very important for children.

Indeed, a whale watching operator can do a lot to contribute to scientific research. It can collaborate and host locally active research groups on board and participate in environmental education activities organized by local non-profits. The data collected must include the systematic recording of the navigation path, sighting points and the collection of the photos of the dorsal fins (photo-identification). This data makes it possible to understand the seasonal and annual distribution of the cetaceans. The use of the photo-identification technique allows deepening knowledge of the structure of the population and how it changes over time. The analysis of this data serves the conservation of nature and its resources, benefits the local community and helps the development of sustainable tourism.

Warning: consider also that anyone can collect data saying that it is for scientific research purposes. Those data must be used for scientific publications, improving knowledge and giving a tangible contribution to the protection of the species and the marine environment. If not, what sense would the collection of such data make? It should be possible to check and possibly consult the publications produced.

Thanks to the participation of tourists, the research work carried out on board have resulted in the publication of various scientific articles. We collaborate with the Marine Protected Area, Universities and other research groups at an international level. On board, we will give specific information on the local dolphin population. The more curious can have a look at the scientific articles.

Is it okay to swim with dolphins and whales or touch them?

People look at this experience as something exciting and unique, but it is difficult (if not impossible) to ensure that our physical presence in the water is not perceived as stressful and intrusive in the life of the animals involved.
Most countries adopting guidelines and regulations for whale watching prohibit or strongly advise against this activity. There is scientific evidence (Barra et al., 2019; Fiori et al., 2019) about the negative impact on cetaceans and accidents that occurred to the detriment of people in the water

Disturbance caused by operators offering swimming experiences

  1. To allow people entering in the water near dolphins and whales, the boats could get very close to the animals or anticipate them by overtaking them and increasing the speed of the vehicles, breaking the distance rules and increasing the disturbance;
  2. Your presence in the water will force the animals to become alert, disturbing them during their daily activities with negative effects in the short, medium and long term;
  3. The animals will be forced to change direction and swimming speed to keep their distance from the boats approaching to get people into the water.

Risks to open water swimmers

Being in the water with large and powerful wild animals is always a source of risk. They can react unpredictably and can hurt people in the water if they feel threatened by your presence. In this video, a pilot whale suddenly grabs the swimmer by her leg and drags her several meters down. It is not easy to explain the reason for the animal's behaviour. Instead, it is easier to ask yourself this question: is it worth the risk of experiencing an accident of this type?

This risk increases in the presence of females with cubs and newborns. This video reports an accident that took place in Australia. You can see the speed of the boat and how people enter the water (this situation already shows gaps in safety). During the experience, a woman was struck by a humpback whale trying to defend her cub. The woman was rescued and hospitalized with a fractured rib and internal bleeding. Would you allow a stranger to get close to your newborn? We believe not, so we learn to respect animals for this too. In another case shown in this video, numerous surfers approached a humpback whale cub. When one of the surfers touches the cub, her mother tries to sweep away with her tail those who represent a danger to her. This shows that whether we participate in regulated or unregulated activities, our presence in the water is a nuisance for animals and a potentially lethal risk to our health.
The accident can also happen fortuitously, without the animal's willingness to attack, especially when trying to get closer we end up in their travel direction.

Another problem is the risk of transmission of pathogens from cetaceans to people (erysipelothricosis, brucellosis, tuberculosis) and vice versa through contact or proximity. The risk is low but some conditions can increase it, such as the presence on our body of skin wounds, contaminated water and contact with the animal.

During our tours, it is forbidden to swim with cetaceans both for safety reasons and to avoid disturbing the animals. It is also forbidden to try to touch them.

On the man-dolphin relationship

There are many stories about positive human-wild dolphin interactions or friendly relationships. However, strengthening the habit of dolphins to our presence and contact in the water can only have negative repercussions on the well-being of those individuals. These stories usually have the same conclusion: the premature death of the animal. Why? Because the dolphin becomes more confident with people (not all are well-intentioned) and with boats (the risk of collision increases). If dolphins receive food, they will learn to see humans as a source of nourishment, increasing the likelihood of inconveniences. When it comes to a female, she could transmit these behaviours to her cubs. They can become anomalous dolphins with poor social interactions, reducing their life expectancy and the onset of numerous health problems. A dolphin that does not interact with the other dolphins of its community it's like a dead dolphin.
This video tells the story of Beggar, a dolphin used to interact with people and receive food.

We urge you to avoid any tours showing photos of people feeding dolphins or where people enter the water in contact with them. What may seem to us as an extraordinary and admirable relationship is not necessarily good for the dolphin. Love and respect for dolphins must be stronger than our ego and the desire to appear "special" to the eyes of the people.
Consequently, our invitation extends to avoid all situations where dolphins are kept in captivity and exploited for shows and trained to behave like clowns for the amusement of the spectators. Exploiting dolphins is just a matter of profit, and nothing you will see belongs to this animal in nature.

It is not education.

It is not respect.

It is not conservation.

During our excursions, it is forbidden to try to feed dolphins or other wild animals.