Impacts of Marine Tourism on Humpback Whales

Swim With Whales Impact Study

Whale- and dolphin-watching is a multi-billion dollar industry that spans the globe and can have 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 whale- and dolphin-watching.

In 2014, the Queensland government authorized commercial tourism companies to begin swimming with humpback whales. We investigated the impact that swim-with-whale tours using a mermaid line approach had on the humpback whales in Hervey Bay and found that the behaviour of the whales was significantly impacted. The whales were found to spend less time resting when swim-with-whale tours were initiated. The study also compared the impacts of swim-with tours to more traditional, boat-based whale watch tours and found that the swim-with tours had significantly greater negative impact on the whales’ behaviour than the boat-based tours.

  • Project Partners

    Nozomi Kobayashi, Okinawa Churashima Foundation

  • 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:

  • Educational Materials

    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.