Hervey Bay Swim-With-Whales Impact Study
Hervey Bay Swim-With-Whales Impact Study
For Hervey Bay's ultimate whalewatch adventure, go with the experts at Pacific Whale Foundation.
- Children (ages 6 to 14)
Do you want to be in the water alongside humpback whales?
Would you like to contribute to important research aimed at protecting these magnificent mammals?
If you said YES! then Pacific Whale Foundation has a special opportunity for you in Hervey Bay.
Our Hervey Bay Swim-With-Whales Impact Study is specially designed to allow our passengers to enter the water as part of our research on how immersive (in-water) activities in Hervey Bay affect humpback whales. Here are some main points to note:
- This is an exclusive opportunity for a maximum of nine swimmers per trip, departing on select days at 7:00am (6:15 check-in) from Urangan Harbour. Due to restrictions about entering the water with whale calves, the trips will be offered only in the first half of whale season: from July 27th to September 8th, 2020.
- This is not a regular whalewatch. The priority will be on finding suitable whale subjects and weather conditions to obtain the necessary research data. Swimming with whales is not guaranteed. We do guarantee whale sightings – or you get to go again on another trip, or an Ultimate Whalewatch ecotour (good for up to one year).
- This is not a free-swim activity. You must hold on to a “mermaid line” (a rope extended from the vessel) and passengers cannot enter the water if whales have already approached the vessel within the legally mandated 100-metres. You must also stay in the water for the duration of the in-water activity, even if whales leave the area and/or visibility in the bay is low.
- Non-swimming passengers cannot enter the water and may act as observers only. Observers must comply with the rules and requirements of the research study, as outlined below.
Wetsuits and snorkel gear will be provided. You should bring your own towel and reef-safe sunscreen, which for your convenience can be purchased at check-in (Shop 1, Great Sandy Straits Marina).
Ready to be a part of this exclusive research expedition?
Need more information? Keep reading …
RULES & REQUIREMENTS
The Swim-With Whales Impact Study uses our commercial whalewatch vessel, Ocean Defender as a ‘platform of opportunity’ to conduct humpback whale research. In addition to following all legal requirements for swim-with-whale activities, we have strict parameters in place to maintain the scientific integrity of the research data.
When a suitable pod (group) of whales is identified, the vessel will stop or follow the pod at no-wake speed. The onboard researcher will conduct observational surveys and record whale behaviours at 15-minute intervals before, during and after the immersive period. Other factors to be recorded include group size, age-class, weather conditions, date and location. After the passengers have exited the water, the vessel will remain stationary or follow the pod at no-wake speed. Time with any group of whales will be limited to 60 minutes; or 30 minutes with any group containing mothers and calves.
Additional regulations surrounding swim-with activities are:
- The vessel will not approach within 100 metres of the animals.
- A 20-metre mermaid line will be set from the bow of the vessel.
- Passengers will not enter the water closer than 100 metres from a whale.
- Persons in the water within this 100 metre area will not move towards a whale.
- One hand must be kept on the mermaid line at all times (no free-swimming).
- Any cameras or equipment must be attached to the person.
- No flash photography or underwater lights are allowed.
Please note that being allowed to enter the water is contingent on both whale and weather conditions. Immersive activity will not take place or will be discontinued under certain conditions:
- If a calf, injured, sick or entangled whale is present.
- If a whale carcass has been identified or reported in the area.
- If any whale is demonstrating aggressive behaviour.
- If the pod or whale cannot be approached unobtrusively and cautiously for any reason.
- If the pod or whale exhibits visible signs of disturbance.
- For any reasons relating to the health and safety of any passenger, whale, or other animal in the vicinity.
PURPOSE & OBJECTIVES
The purpose of the Swim-With-Whales Impact Study is to assess the impact of immersive whalewatching (or swim-with-whales tourism) on humpback whales in Hervey Bay by monitoring and recording behaviours and behavioural changes before, during and after in-water encounters.
Our objectives are to (1) better understand if humpback whales change their behavior due to in-water interactions with humans, (2) identify factors which may influence behaviour change, and (3) provide recommendations to governing authorities, resource managers, and tour operators to ensure that Hervey Bay’s humpback whales are not negatively impacted by swim-with-whales tourism.
Between 19 July 2018 and 15 September 2018, 19 dedicated swim-with-whales trips were completed, and 32 whale pods were encountered. Pacific Whale Foundation researchers collected behavioral observations on these whales in the presence and absence of swimmers and presented their preliminary findings at the International Whaling Commission meeting in Nairobi, Kenya in May 2019. We will spend the 2019 season collecting additional data on swim-with-whale activities and begin the analysis in 2020.
BACKGROUND & PRINCIPLES
In 2014, the Queensland government authorized commercial tourism companies to begin immersive swimming activities with humpback whales, currently listed as a “vulnerable” species under the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Our position on this emerging issue was outlined as follows:
- All tourism activities associated with whales, dolphins and other cetaceans should seek to minimise disruption to natural behaviour patterns.
- The management of marine wildlife tourism activities should be based on a scientific understanding of the targeted species in the targeted locations.
- Wherever possible, baseline research into natural behaviour patterns should be carried out before tourism activities are undertaken or introduced.
- The precautionary principle should be applied, i.e. if there is a lack of evidence, it should be assumed that detrimental effects could be occurring.
- Adaptive management protocols should be adopted and implemented, i.e. if credible research shows the effects of tourism activities may be detrimental, then such effects should be mitigated.
Our Swim-Whale With-Whales Impact Study and data collection will put these principles into action, in alignment with the Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching which state: commercial swim programs should be accompanied by ongoing research to monitor whale and dolphin response to swimmers. We’re excited to involve the public in our research expeditions, as we embark upon a new adventure with significant implications for humpback whales in Hervey Bay and around the world.