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Whale Watching in the Mediterranean
  • Research > Whale watching
  • Whale watching and its issues

    Whale watching is the action of observing cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in their natural habitat. Amongst other aspects, it constitutes a large part of the ecotourism industry, which is growing at an exponential and particularly rapid rate in many places around the world: every year, more than a billion dollars are generated through this activity. Multiple studies have shown that such development if not kept in check could have serious repercussions on both individual cetaceans and their populations, and therefore eventually on the activity itself. There are numerous consequences that can result from bad whale watching practices such as the disappearance of these animals from certain sectors, the appearance of auditory deficiencies, or even radical behavioural and physiological changes caused by chronic stress.

    These effects sometimes lead to a reduced state of health of the populations, meaning a host of problems in terms of conservation, particularly for sensitive populations.

    However, whale-watching allows the public to discover cetaceans in their environment. Therefore, when it is carried out with a good message of awareness and through the emotional content carried by these animals, whale-watching opens the mind on the need to preserve marine mammals but also all species and their habitats.

    Through their presence at sea, whale-watching operators can also be an important asset for the research thereby participating in a better knowledge and therefore in a better protection of the cetaceans. So, whale-watching is a valuable tool offering mutual benefits to cetaceans and the public while allowing an economic development of the local communities.

    In the Mediterranean, several sites of high seasonal or year-round abundance are appropriate for whale-watching, which has been steadily increasing since the 1990s. In order to ensure this activity a sustainable future, the managers of the Pelagos Sanctuary and of the ACCOBAMS chose to better know this activity, follow its evolution, collaborate with its actors and implement a concerted management system. Souffleurs d’Ecume is in charge of this work for the Pelagos Sanctuary.

    Assessment and management of whale watching in the Mediterranean: the work of Souffleurs d'Ecume

    Although a whole body of signs seemed to indicate a growth of this activity in the Pelagos Sanctuary since the 1990s, only in 2005 did a study identify precisely the economic, ecological and environmental aspects of this activity. This work allowed to identify the actors involved in the process (about thirty operators in Pelagos) and to create a regularly updated database. It also highlighted great disparities in the practices since two-third of the operators practised intrusive approaches. The high level of collaboration and the favourable welcoming of the operators led to a wish from them to be better informed about and trained on the applicable measures to reduce the impacts of whale-watching and favour its advantages.

    The creation of a certification associated with a training session and specifications was identified as a very concrete management tool to implement these aspirations: the High Quality Whale-Watching® certification (registered by ACCOBAMS and improved with the Pelagos Sanctuary)

    Presented by Souffleurs d’Ecume in 2007 during the 3rd Conference of the Parties of the ACCOBAMS, the certification guidelines have been designed together with the operators and the French, Italian and Monegasque prescribers. In a nutshell, they include the following elements:

    • Training of the operators;
    • Respect of the Code of Good Conduct;
    • Ban on swimming with cetaceans;
    • Extensive and naturalist practice (not strictly on cetaceans);
    • Aerial detections not recommended;
    • Waste sorting on board;
    • Participation in the research programs.

    The first step towards the creation of this certification within the French Part of the Pelagos Sanctuary was launched in 2012 with the first training course of operators, from April 2 to April 5 in Porquerolles.

    Whale-watching operators training course

    Since 2014, guidelines have been strengthened and registered by ACCOBAMS, in partnership with Pelagos. They are associated with an official logo created by Souffleurs d'Ecume in collaboration with French whale-watching operators. ACCOBAMS decided to rely on Souffleurs d'Ecume to manage the certification process in France. To this day, 13 operators commit to the certification official specifications. These professionals will now stand out by showing the official logo. We hope that more will follow for next years.

    The last study published in 2014 listed 32 operators, a 3.2%-increase per year and growing worries related to the development of swim-with-cetaceans activities and aerial detections. Spreading the High Quality Whale-Watching® certification represents a well-initiated and essential step towards the conservation of Mediterranean cetaceans

    for further information

    Website dedicated to the High Quality Whale-Watching® certification for the French Méditerranean Sea (www.whale-watching-label.fr).

    List of certified operators.

    The Code of Good Conduct for Observation of Mediterranean Cetaceans (French, 238 KB)

    Specifications of the certification "High Quality Whale-Watching®" (version 2014)

    Mayol P. (2015) - Guide pratique à l'usage des opérateurs de whale-watching en Méditerranée française. Souffleurs d'Ecume Ed. 34 p.

    Mayol P., De Mongolfier B., Ratel M., Bordes R., Costales L., Iatropoulos D., Ortolé C. and Belhadjer A. (2016) - Caractérisation des activités d'observation commerciale des cétacés à l'échelle du sanctuaire AGOA. Report in collaboration with the AGOA sanctuary under the framework co-funded by the Agence des Aires Marines Protégées and the DEAL Martinique. 110 p. (last edition from original version published in 2015)

    Ratel M., Couvat J., Dubois F., Barcelo A., Montiglio C. and Mayol P. (2016) - An international whale-watching certification to drive industry towards environmental excellence. 30th European Cetacean Society Conference, 14-16 march 2016, Madeira (Poster com.).

    Ratel M. (2015) - Un label international pour le tourisme baleinier : vers une démarche d'excellence environnementale. Regional experience exchange workshop of the MedPAN network, 23-27 Nov. 2015, Sinis, Sardaigne (com. or.).

    Ratel M. (2014) - Launching the "High Quality Whale-Watching" certification. Regional experience exchange workshop of the MedPAN network, 24-28 Nov. 2014, Tirana, Albanie (com. or.).

    Mayol P., Di-Méglio N., David L., Couvat J., Labach H. and Ratel, M.(2014) - Le whale-watching en Méditerranée française : état des lieux et recommandations. Scientific Reports of Port-Cros national park, 28: 133-143.

    Mayol P., Di-Méglio N., David L., Serre S. and Dhermain F. (2013) - Whale-watching & plaisance : précision des connaissances et des mesures de gestion. Rapport coordonné par le GIS3M dans le cadre du programme financé par le Sanctuaire PELAGOS partie française et le Ministère de l'environnement. 172 p. (Réédition corrigée de la version originale publiée en 2012) (12,7 Mo).

    Mayol P., Dubois F., Peirache M., Grillo M.-C., Salivas M., David L., Labach H., Roger T., Couvat J., Webster C. and Robert P. (2013) - Toward the concerted management of whale-watching in the Mediteranean Sea. IMPAC 3, 21-27 Oct. 2013. Marseille (or. com.).

    Mayol P. and Labach H. (2013) - Combien valent les cétacés de Pelagos s'il vous plaït ? Colloque Scientifique des 50 ans du Parc National de Port Cros "50 ans de recherche à Port-Cros", 14-15 Oct. 2013, Hyères (com. or.).

    Mayol P. and Weber H. (2009) - Le whale-watching en Méditerranée française : mise à jour de la base de données des opérateurs et prescripteurs de whale-watching exerçant en Méditerranée française et au départ de Monaco. Inventory report produced by Souffleurs d'Ecume in collaboration with Corsica Mare Osservazione for the French sector of the Pelagos Sanctuary. 37 p. (French, 512 KB)

    Mayol P., Beaubrun P. Dhermain F. and Richez G. (2007) Le whale-watching en Méditerranée : les enjeux d'un développement durable. Espaces tourisme & loisirs 244 : 42-54. (French, 223 KB).

    Mayol P. and Gambaiani D. (2007) - Whale-watching et Pescaturismo en Corse : Etat des lieux et propositions de gestion. Mise à jour des connaissances sur le whale-watching, diagnostic des projets de pluriactivité "pêche / tourisme " intégrant l'observation des cétacés, propositions de gestion intégrées aux impératifs de conservation du Grand dauphin et aux besoins socio-économiques. Report produced on behalf of Corsica Regional Nature Park within the framework of the LIFE LINDA programme. 64 p. + annexes. (French, 3.6 MB).

    PNPC (2007) - Compte-rendu de la réunion des opérateurs et prescripteurs français de whale-watching. Hyères, Friday 2 March 2007. 10 p. (French, 118 KB).

    Mayol P., Beaubrun P. Dhermain F. and Richez G. (2007) - Commercial whale watching off the French Mediterranean coast. 59th International Meeting Commission (IWC/59/10), Anchorage, USA, 14 p. (320 KB).

    ACCOBAMS/PELAGOS (2007) - Procès verbal de la réunion des opérateurs et prescripteurs français, italiens et monégasque de whale-watching pour la validation du projet de label. 23 April 2007, Monaco. 24 p. (French, 213 KB).

    Mayol P. (2007) - Nager avec les dauphins : la part du rêve. Océans, 297 (May–June 2007): 34-40. (French, 47 KB)

    ACCOBAMS (2007) - Résolution 3.23 : Observation commerciale des cétacés, vers un label. Document ACCOBAMS-MOP3/2007/Doc44rev1 (presented by France), Dubrovnik (Croatia), 22-25 October 2007, 3 p. (French, 113 KB)

    Technical specifications of the certification : MAYOL P. & FORTUNA C. (2007) - Propositions de lignes directrices pour l'obtention d'un Label à destination des opérateurs de whale-watching de la zone Pelagos / ACCOBAMS. ACCOBAMS-MOP3/2007/Doc59 document (presented by France), Dubrovnik (Croatia), 22-25 October 2007, 12 p. + appendices. (French, 243 KB)

    Mayol P. and Beaubrun P. (2005) - Le whale-watching en Méditerranée française : état des lieux et perspectives. Recensement des Opérateurs, diagnostic socio-économique et écologique de l'activité, propositions préliminaires de gestion. Report produced by Souffleurs d'Ecume on behalf of MEDD within the framework of the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean marine mammals. 104 p. (French, 1.9 MB)

    Whale watching and energy independence: Towards a sustainable and model economy. Preliminary phase to the formation of a working group on alternatives to fossil fuels for the sustainable development of whale watching. (1.6 MB)

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