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Conservation

After a three year-trial of swim-with humpback whales, the activity commenced in Hervey Bay in 2014. Strong rules of engagement were implemented and a self-regulated Code of Ethics was adopted by the whale watching industry. In Australia, it is illegal to conduct swim-with activities when there is a calf in the whale pod.

It’s a niche market with a small percentage of revenue compared to vessel-based whale watching. Due to factors including strong tides and poor visibility, weather conditions, and presence of mother-calf, swim-with hasn’t been a viable option for tour operators.

The Pacific Whale Foundation has conducted a ‘swim-with’ research programme to examine short-term behavioural responses in whales compared to whale watch tours. Results of the study have now been published (https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2021.696136), and show that the behaviour of humpback whales was altered in response to swim-with whale tourism.

To enable a balanced discussion on the issue of the future of swim-with activities, Dr Kathy Townsend of USC undertook a Special Research Project to review recent literature on this subject and to report on incidences of injury from swim-with activities in western Australia and other areas of the world.

Photo: Fraser Coast Tourism & Events