Friday, March 18, 2016

IORA whale and dolphin watching workshop

I was invited to the beautiful Sri Lanka last February to attend IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association) whale and dolphin watching workshop. This post is basically my report to the IORA Indonesia Secretariat, slightly modified for this post. Special thanks to Lars Bejder of Murdoch Uni who has recommended my participation, IORA Indonesia who has elected me as an Indonesian rep, the Australian Govt (the Department of Environment) for funding the whole event, International Whaling Commission as the amazing co-facilitator, and the Sri Lanka Institute of Policy Studies for being a great host. I will visit Sri Lanka again one day... seven days is not enough...

On 24-26 February 2016, a regional IORA workshop on sustainable whale and dolphin watching was conducted in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Titled “Building sustainable whale and dolphin watching tourism in the Indian Ocean region”, the workshop was based on IORA’s goal, i.e., “to promote the sustained growth and balanced development of the region and of the Member States” and at least one of IORA’s six priority areas (i.e., tourism and cultural exchanges)(IORA 2015a). As of 2015, IORA has also put emphasize on the Blue Economy concept. 

For the purpose of this report, the blue economy is defined as an approach where “ecosystem services are properly valued, where lower impact activities” are promoted and “where the natural capital is maintained as an integral part of the process” (UN Sustainable Development 2014). A meeting held in Mauritius in September 2015 has addressed the Blue Economy in Fisheries and Aquaculture, Renewable Ocean Energy, Seaports and Shipping and Seabed Exploration and Minerals (IORA 2015b). The whale and dolphin watching meeting in Sri Lanka thus addresses one of the remaining IORA priority areas.

A total of 17 countries out of 21 Member States attended the meeting in Colombo (to Mustika’s knowledge, India and Singapore did not attend). Two representatives from the Indonesia Embassy for Sri Lanka attended the meeting as well. Mustika presented during the first session (“The value and sustainability of the whale and dolphin watching tourism industry and the benefits of regional cooperation”) alongside Prof Lars Bejder (Murdoch University) and Dr Asha de Vos (Sri Lanka). Mustika’s presentation was on the sustainability of dolphin watching in Lovina (Bali, Indonesia) with a brief description and discussion on the industry in Indonesia and other parts of developing Asia. Based on her PhD works with James Cook University Australia (Mustika 2011; Mustika et al. 2012; Mustika et al. 2013; Mustika et al. 2015), Mustika’s presentation can be found here.

During the subsequent, very interesting, discussions, participants learned about the status of whale and dolphin watching industries in other Member States. Australia and Mauritius deserve a particular mention for their leaderships in establishing their own codes of practice. Other countries have also started to regulate their whale and dolphin watching industries, but more efforts need to be made before this industry is sustainable in the IORA region. It should also be noted that Australia is the only country in the IORA region who has assessed the ecological sustainability of their industries (e.g., Bejder et al. 2006). Indonesia (Mustika) and India (D'Lima 2015) are the only countries in the IORA region that have the human-dimension aspects of their whale and dolphin watching industries assessed,  although its ecological sustainability has yet to be examined. 

On the second day, Member States have made a recommendation (click here, or see below), including improving the sustainable practices of whale and dolphin watching industries in the region and establishing a whale and dolphin watching network for IORA to improve the industry’s practices. On the third day (26 Feb), participants went out to Marissa for whale watching using a navy ship. We saw 17-20 boats following two whales (one of them was positively identified as a blue whale). The whale watching industry at Marissa was totally out of control and in an urgent need for a better regulation and compliance. The trip also presents a counterpart scenario to the Lovina scenario, whereby the sustainability of both industries is questionable, yet Lovina has individual small outriggers (4 passengers capacity), whereas Marissa Sri Lanka has large tourism boats (20-50 passengers capacity).

Sustainable whale and dolphin watching has been specifically mentioned in Indonesia’s National Plan of Action for the Cetaceans  released by the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF, Kementerian Kelautan dan Perikanan) in February 2016 (Mustika et al. 2016). Thus, Indonesia is already in the right direction as prescribed by the Colombo IORA meeting recommendation. However, collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism (Kementerian Pariwisata) is also recommended due to the overlapping nature of tourism and conservation in the country. Here we recommend that IORA Indonesia support the promotion of sustainable whale watching in collaboration/coordination with the MMAF (Kementerian Kelautan dan Perikanan) and the MoT, e.g., through a key stakeholder consultation at national level to act upon the Colombo results. Mustika and other cetacean researchers in Indonesia are more than ready to assist in the development of such consultation.


[start of workshop recommendations]

‘Building Sustainable Whale and Dolphin Watching Tourism 
in the Indian Ocean Region’
Sri Lanka, 24-26 February 2016

IORA Member States summarised the discussion from the workshop as follows:

  • Whale and dolphin watching tourism is one of the fastest growing marine tourism sectors. When managed well, whale and dolphin watching tourism creates economic, social and ecological benefits such as inclusive economic growth, livelihoods and job creation for communities while also encouraging the safeguarding of marine species and habitats.
  • The Indian Ocean is rich in marine resources and provides habitat for many marine mammal species.
  • Whale and dolphin watching tourism exists across the Indian Ocean Rim region, ranging from established and mature industries to nascent or emerging industries considering a new form of tourism development, and can contribute to the Blue Economy.
  • The behavioural ecology of whales and dolphins, as long-lived, slow and late reproducers and socially complex species, renders them particularly vulnerable to human disturbance and can result in them experiencing detrimental effects from tourism operations, if not carefully managed.
  • Cetaceans face a series of threats including ship strikes, competition with fisheries, bycatch, chemical and noise pollution, marine debris and climate change. 
  • Member States face common challenges in managing their whale and dolphin watching tourism, including lack of capacity and resources including for compliance and enforcement. Member States identified possible solutions ranging from regulations to community education.
  • The importance of sustainable management of the industry based on best available science and tourism standards.
  • The importance of education, training and compliance in this industry to protect cetaceans and deliver quality nature-based tourism products. 
  • Tourists have better, more satisfying experiences when operations include an education component and treat the animals and the environment with respect.
  • Recognised the expertise contained within the IWC’s conservation and scientific committees and Murdoch University and the potential to collaborate with and provide capacity building to IORA member states.
  • This topic is relevant to IORA’s six priority areas and its focus on the Blue Economy, and is a topic deserving of further regional collaboration as several countries have recently commenced or will commence whale and dolphin watching tourism.
  • Sustainable whale and dolphin watching tourism can provide valuable direct and indirect positive impact for economic empowerment of women and youth with significant spillover effects into the tourism sector value chain.

The Workshop participants:

  • Support sharing information and expertise among IORA Member States to sustainably manage whale and dolphin watching tourism operations to ensure the economic, social and ecological sustainability of this industry by: 
- Sharing information, best practice, experience and expertise including through online communication on the IORA website.

- Sharing international expertise by collaborating with key actors such as the International Whaling Commission which may be able to assist with mitigation of threats to cetaceans, capacity building and facilitate access to funding and development organisations.

- Undertaking capacity building and training for Member States.

- Acknowledging the need for baseline scientific information to inform sustainable management.

- Helping develop and disseminate education materials such as brochures to tour and boat operators for tourist education.  

- Establishing an IORA sustainable whale and dolphin watching tourism network

+ Member States to identify a Dolphin and Whale Tourism Watching Focal Point, and up to 6 representatives including tourism, marine and fisheries representatives, as well as academic/expert and industry representatives

+ IORA Secretariat is requested to develop a terms of reference for the Network including mechanisms and priorities.

  • Requests the IORA Secretariat, with support from Member States, to circulate examples of guidelines and legislation from Member States and other examples as a way of sharing existing mechanisms and providing guidance to other Member States who have not yet developed their own mechanisms.

  • Proposes the IORA Secretariat, with support from Member States, publishes a short brochure summarising the case studies from this workshop to be shared on the IORA website to showcase Indian Ocean expertise and experience, and which will also be shared with international partners such as the IWC to inform the Whale watching Handbook which is a compendium of international best practice.

  • Seeks further opportunities to strengthen scientific, academic and technical cooperation including connecting whale and dolphin researchers in IORA Member States and collaboration such as the IORA journals, Indian Ocean Academic Group (IORAG), IORA Centre of Excellence in Ocean Sciences and the Environment, and with the International Whaling Commission and Murdoch University.

[end of workshop recommendations]



Bejder, L., Samuels, A., Whitehead, H., Gales, N., Mann, J., Connor, R., Heithaus, M., Watson-Capps, J., Flaherty, C. & Krutzen, M. 2006, 'Decline in Relative Abundance of Bottlenose Dolphins Exposed to Long-Term Disturbance', Conservation Biology, vol. 20, no. 6, pp. 1791-1798.
D'Lima, C. 2015, Striking a balance between fishing, tourism and dolphin conservation at Chilika Lagoon, India, James Cook University, Townsville.
IORA, 2015a, IORA Priority Areas [Online], Indian Ocean Rim Association,  Available: [18 March 2016].
IORA, 2015b, Blue Economy [Online], Indian Ocean Rim Association,  Available: [18 March 2016].
Mustika, P. L. K. 2011, 'Towards Sustainable Dolphin Watching Tourism in Lovina, Bali, Indonesia (unpublished thesis)', James Cook University.
Mustika, P. L. K., Birtles, A., Everingham, Y. & Marsh, H. 2013, 'The human dimensions of wildlife tourism in a developing country: watching spinner dolphins at Lovina, Bali, Indonesia', Journal of Sustainable Tourism, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 229-251.
Mustika, P. L. K., Birtles, A., Everingham, Y. & Marsh, H. 2015, 'Evaluating the potential disturbance from dolphin watching in Lovina, north Bali, Indonesia', Marine Mammal Science, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 808-817.
Mustika, P. L. K., Birtles, A., Welters, R. & Marsh, H. 2012, 'The economic influence of community-based dolphin watching on a local economy in a developing country: Implications for conservation', Ecological Economics, vol. 79,  pp. 11-20.
Mustika, P. L. K., Sadili, D., Sunuddin, A., Kreb, D., Hadi, S., Ramli, I., Suprapti, D., Ratha, J., Lazuardi, E., Rasdiana, H., Miasto, Y., Sari, R. P., Annisa, S., Terry, N. & Monintja, M. M. P. 2016, Rencana Aksi Nasional (RAN) Konservasi Cetacea Indonesia 2016-2020 (the Cetacean National Plan of Action (NPOA) for Indonesia 2016-2020), Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Jakarta.

UN Sustainable Development, 2014, Blue Economy Concept Paper [Online],  Available:

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