Swim-­with or In-­water Encounters with Whales

Policy/Position statement from Pacific Whale Foundation on Swim-­with or In-­water Encounters with Whales


1.   That all tourism activities associated with cetaceans should seek to minimise disruption to natural behaviour patterns.

2.   That the management of tourism activities based on cetaceans should be based on a scientific understanding of the targeted species. This understanding requires credible research on the species and locations where the tourism is focused.

3.   Wherever possible, baseline research into the natural behaviour of the species at specific locations should be carried out before tourism activities are undertaken, or new activities introduced.

4.   Adaptive management protocols should be adopted and implemented. That is, if research shows effects of tourism activities may be detrimental, then management regimes should be amended to ensure such effects are mitigated.

5.   The precautionary principle should be applied. That is, a lack of evidence of detrimental effects should not be interpreted as if there are no such effects. It should be assumed that detrimental effects could be occurring until evidence is available to show it is not.

Swim-with and other in-water encounters with cetaceans


1.   There is widespread evidence based on empirical, peer-reviewed published research that swim-with cetacean’s tourism activities are not benign. That is, such activities do affect cetacean behaviour.

2.   There is a growing concern in the scientific community (as evidenced by positions published by the Society for Marine Mammalogy and the IWC) that in-water encounters with cetaceans could be detrimental to the animals targeted.

3.   Many countries have banned in-water encounters with cetaceans, particularly with baleen whales (eg. USA, Canada, UK).

Queensland, Australia

1.   Queensland, Australia has recently allowed the undertaking of in-water tourism experiences with humpback whales (Hervey Bay, Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast).

2.   This initiative is in part driven,  by the industry and a desire to grow whale tourism patronage and revenue.

3.   There is no research into the potential effects of such activities on humpback whales.

4.   Research from elsewhere suggests that such activities are likely to have effects on the targeted whales.

Pacific Whale Foundation position

The Pacific Whale Foundation is a formally registered non-for--profit organisation that exists to promote conservation of whales through research, education and conservation initiatives. It has a 36 year history of leading responsible whale-watching tourism activities which model best practice in terms of minimising effects on whales and maximising conservation outcomes (via education, research and advocacy).

The Pacific Whale Foundation has operated (as a research entity and through involvement with whale-watching) in Australia (particularly Hervey Bay) for over 30 years.

The Pacific Whale Foundation has been granted a permit/license approval to conduct in-water tourism activities with humpback whales in Hervey Bay from the 2014 season. However, in order to be consistent with its purpose and values the Foundation has decided:

The Pacific Whale Foundation will not conduct in-­water tourism activities with humpback whales until such time as appropriate research into the potential effects of such activities on the whales has been completed.

The Pacific Whale Foundation is currently exploring how it might support and conduct this research. It will then, as a consequence of the findings of this research, make recommendations to the appropriate management authorities and the industry regarding best-practice protocols to minimise potential detrimental effects and outcomes for the whales (note this could include a recommendation of ceasing such activities).