Assessing the Impacts of Human Activities on Whales and Dolphins

The goal of this study is to measure the short- and long-term impacts that human activities, such as climate change, vessel traffic, fisheries, and marine tourism can have on whale and dolphin populations, and use scientific data to advise on best practices and sustainable co existence.

Whales and dolphins face a variety of impacts, which are primarily related to human activities. The growth of human coastal populations, infrastructure, and maritime transport in conjunctions with increased demand for seafood has led to increased risks for whales and  dolphins such as entanglements, ship strikes, and habitat loss.

Climate Change

In the last century, humans have been accelerating the rate of climate change to dangerous and  unsustainable levels. An increase in strength and frequency of weather events, both on land and in the ocean, have threatened species survival. In addition, many natural processes in the ocean are being affected by the increase in sea surface temperatures. The humpback whale, due to its long migration patterns and reliance on cool, nutrient-rich water, is a good indicator of how climate change is affecting the ocean’s productivity and health.

Pacific Whale Foundation researchers are contributors to the world’s first international research project aimed to establish an understanding of how changing ocean conditions  influence the recovery of whale populations in the Southern Hemisphere. Along with PWF are more than 25 researchers from five countries gathering and contributing data to aid a team of researchers from six universities in building a model to predict whale distributions under future climate change scenarios, and help to investigate changes influencing population status and conservation of humpback whales.

Swim With Whales Impact Study

Wildlife watching is a multi-billion dollar industry that spans the globe and can have potentially negative impacts on the targeted species. However, when conducted thoughtfully and respectfully, can have positive impacts not only on the animals but on their environments as a whole. Conservation education, regulation compliance, and continued monitoring and research contribute to the positive impacts of marine tourism.

In 2014, the Queensland government authorized commercial tourism companies to begin swimming with humpback whales, currently listed as a “vulnerable” species under the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. We are investigating the  behavioral impact of commercial swim with whales tours in Hervey Bay. Our objectives are to better understand if humpback whales change their behavior due to in-water interactions with humans, identify factors which may influence behaviour change, and 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.

  • Project Partners

    Olaf Meynecke, Griffith University

  • Recent Publications

    2021: Stack, S.H., Sprogis, K.R., Olson, G.L., Sullivan, F.A., Machernis, A.F. and Currie, J.J. The behavioural impacts of commercial swimming with whale tours on humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Hervey Bay, Australia. Frontiers in Marine Science. DOI 10.3389/fmars.2021.696136. Download PDF.

    2019: Stack, S.H., McCordic, J.A., Machernis, A.F., Olson, G.L., Currie, J.J. Preliminary report on  the impacts of swim-with-whale tourism on humpback whale behavior in Hervey Bay,  Queensland, Australia. Document SC/68A/WW/02 presented to the IWC Scientific Committee,  Nairobi, Kenya: 10 May-22 May. 22 pp.

    2015: New, L.F., Hall, A.J., Harcourt, R., Kaufman, G., Parsons, E.C.M., Pearson, H.C., Cosentino,  A.M., and Shick, R.S. The modelling and assessment of whale-watching impacts. Ocean and  Coastal Management

    2015: Meissner, A.M., Christiansen, F., Martinez, E., Pawley, M.D.M., Orams, M.B. and Stockin,  K.A. Behavioural Effects of Tourism on Oceanic Common Dolphins, Delphinus sp., in New  Zealand: The Effects of Markov Analysis Variations and Current Tour Operator Compliance with  Regulations. PLOS ONE 10(1).

    *For a full list of our research publications, click here:

  • Webinars and Podcasts

    Marine Conservation Happy Hour
    Swimming With Whales and Dolphins

    Should tourists swim with wild marine mammals? In this episode we talk to PWF Chief Biologist Stephanie Stack about whether it’s safe, or sustainable, for humans to swim with wild dolphins and whales.


Hawaii Visitor Update

Aloha, We Are Open!  Our PacWhale Eco-Adventures are open for booking as we welcome visitors back to Maui.  Quarantine restrictions were lifted on Oct. 15th for those following the state’s pre-arrival COVID-19 testing requirements.