Incorporating visitor experiences into ecologically sustainable dwarf minke whale tourism in the northern Great Barrier Reef

Birtles, Alastair, Valentine, Peter S, Curnock, Matthew, Arnold, Peter, and Dunstan, Andy (2002) Incorporating visitor experiences into ecologically sustainable dwarf minke whale tourism in the northern Great Barrier Reef. UNSPECIFIED. CRC Reef Research Centre Ltd, Townsville, Queensland.

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Abstract

There is a commercial swim program based on dwarf minke whales, Balaenoptera acutorostrata, in the northern Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. During the winter months, dive tourists on the live-aboard dive vessels operating along the outer shelf Ribbon Reefs north of Port Douglas, experience close and often prolonged encounters with these inquisitive little whales while snorkelling and SCUBA diving. Only recently recognised as different to their northern and southern hemisphere minke relatives, these whales are currently regarded as an undescribed sub-species of the northern hemisphere minke. They were first documented in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in the 1980s and, despite several years of intensive study, we still know very little about their biology and ecology. This lack of knowledge about some of the most basic information needed for ecologically sustainable management of interactions has been the driving force behind our research and this study addresses some of these information gaps. These encounters are two-way interactions with both the whales and the humans being influenced by the behaviour of each other. It is therefore vital that we understand as much as possible about all aspects of these interactions. We have thus used research methodologies derived from both the natural sciences and the social sciences. Previous studies of other marine wildlife have shown the importance of understanding the experiences of people to effectively design and test appropriate management guidelines (Birtles, Cuthill, Valentine and Davis 1996; Davis, Banks, Birtles, Valentine and Cuthill 1997). Observations of whale-swimmer interactions indicated that initiation of encounters both at reefs and in open water were largely controlled by the whales. Management of snorkeller/diver behaviour is necessary, however, to minimize potential harassment of the whales and to ensure that the interactions are as much as possible under the control of the whales, this being one of the key requirements of the ANZECC Guidelines (2000). We have been working with the live-aboard dive tourism industry to develop and test management guidelines for swimming with these whales, as well as providing passengers with high quality interpretation material. A proposed Code of Practice for Dwarf Minke Whale-Human Interactions was developed and introduced to the industry at a pre-season minke workshop in June 1999. In addition, operators were provided with a detailed interpretive manual for assisting with developing their own individual interpretive materials and talks. These Minke Whale Information Packages were first supplied to the live-aboards prior to the 1999 season and have been updated each year since at the pre-season industry workshops. Much of their content can be seen at the Minke Whale Project website: www.reef.crc.org.au/about reef/wildlife/minkewhale.html. During the 1999 and 2000 minke whale seasons on the GBR, passengers on five live-aboard dive vessels experiencing regular in-water interactions with dwarf minke whales were surveyed using a self-administered questionnaire. The questionnaire collected information on four core components of the research task: (1) the nature of the experience, (2) details about the visitors, (3) visitor assessment of the management of viii their minke whale encounters (including the Code of Practice), and (4) visitor assessment of education and interpretation provided by operators (including the Minke Whale Information Package). This two-year survey of whale-swim participants addressed people’s knowledge and expectations of the swim encounters, positive and negative aspects of the encounters, concern for possible negative impacts, assessment of present management practices, support and opposition to the Code of Practice, and assessment of interpretive material. This study has applied these experiential data from 527 passengers to assess the proposed Code and interpretive material available on the vessels. Passenger satisfaction with encounters and their management was very high. Generally, the Code was strongly supported although certain recommended procedures received only weak support. These results are directly applicable to the management of encounters by the participating live-aboard dive operators, providing feedback on passengers’ expectations and experiences with minke whales as well as their perceptions of management of their encounters. We discuss how to incorporate such feedback into improving the management of these unique human-whale interactions. Results from this study have already been used to improve the interpretive material in 2000 and 2001, with updates to operators’ Minke Whale Information Packages and the development of a draft Information Brochure for passengers. The draft Information Brochure for passengers was formally evaluated by a JCU Master of Tourism student, Liam Smith, who interviewed passengers about their opinions of the interpretive tool (Smith, 2000). Some of this feedback has been incorporated into a new brochure for the 2002 season. This six-page colour brochure (Dwarf minke whales in the Great Barrier Reef: Current State of Knowledge May 2002) has been published by the CRC Reef Research Centre and is being distributed free to passengers on the live-aboard vessels. It can be downloaded as a pdf file from the CRC Reef website at www.reef.crc.org.au. ix

Item ID: 1044
Item Type: Report (UNSPECIFIED)
Keywords: Dwarf Minke Whale, Sustainable tourism, Tourism management, Great Barrier Reef, Visitor experiences
Additional Information:

Technical Report No 42

Date Deposited: 16 Aug 2007
FoR Codes: 15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150606 Tourist Behaviour and Visitor Experience @ 70%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050211 Wildlife and Habitat Management @ 30%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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