For this reason, WDC has codified the criteria which we believe must be met in order for whale watching to be truly responsible and sustainable to whales and dolphins and the marine environment, and truly beneficial to passengers, operators and communities. In order to qualify, trips must offer:

  • A prime recreational and educational experience for participants which motivates them to care about marine mammals and the sea, and to work for marine conservation;
  • An experience that seeks to reduce the impact on whales, so that whales are watched with the lightest ‘footprint’ possible: this includes respecting relevant regulations or codes of conduct; ensuring vessels are fit for purpose; approaching with extreme care and attention,; respecting approach distances, and limiting time spent in their vicinity ;
  • Opportunities for researchers to gather scientific information and disseminate findings to managers and the public;
  • An experience built around a naturalist or nature guide who can provide accurate information, help to find the whales and describe their behaviour, and successfully build the bridge between the urban participant and the sea; and
  • The active involvement of the community or region in its work, enabling communities and regions to have a financial as well as a personal interest in whale watching and the conservation of cetaceans and the sea. (Source: IWC, 19961, Hoyt/WDCS, 2005, and Lott et al. 2006).

In addition, we seek to promote situations where research is being conducted so that the whales and dolpins are also being carefully monitored over the longer term. Whale and dolphin species are subjected to many pressures in the modern world and we believe that such monitoring can help to determine their status and the potential sustainability of the factors that may be affecting them, including whale watching. In the United States, Whale SENSE is a voluntary education and recognition program offered to commercial whale watching companies (Maine through Virginia) by NOAA Fisheries Service, NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Another collaborative progamme is Dolphin SMART, which aims to promote responsible viewing and stewardship of wild dolphins. The programme currently has participating operators in Florida, Alabama, and Hawaii. Launched in the Florida Keys in 2007, Dolphin SMART is the result of a collaborative effort between WDC and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Sanctuary Program, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Dolphin Ecology Project, and local dolphin-watch tour operators.