One decade of whale watching in an important tourist destination in the Colombian Pacific, challenges for a good management
Isabel Cristina Avila, Luis Fernando Ortega, Cristina Pretel, Gustavo Mayor
The increase in whale-watching activity worldwide has become a major threat to whales. Colombia is one of the top cetacean-watching countries in Latin America. Uramba Bahía Málaga Natural National Park is one of the most important places visited by tourists to see humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Colombia. Humpback whales arrive every year between May and December to breed and rear calves. To identify the current state of whale-watching in Málaga we analyzed touristic data from 2011 to 2019. We found that whale-watching activity in Málaga has increased considerably. Whale-watchers per month increased by 108%, from 2,549 tourists in 2011 to 5,297 tourists in 2019. Additionally, monthly whale-watching boat trips increased by 140%, from 175 trips in 2011 to 420 trips in 2019. Currently there are in average 19 boat trips per day (±18.0). Whale-watching activity is characterized by the use of small boats (≤ 15m). Tourists came mainly from Colombia (90%), and also from other countries of America and Europe. August was the most important month for whale watching. Although environmental education activities are undertaken, currently whale-watching recommendations are overlooked. At present, whale-watching activity in Málaga produces important economic benefits for local people and neighboring, with a monthly expenditure of $ 362,409 USD by tourists, but to ensure the continuity of this activity, negative impacts on whales need to be minimized. Therefore, we urge environmental authorities to determine the carrying capacity of the area with relevant stakeholders and to promote a responsible tourism in the area, including:1) following the current whale-watching recommendations strictly, 2) transit speeds below 10 knots in the whales’ area, 3) use propeller-guards (specially in large boats), 4) performing watching whales from a land-based, 5) implementing the acoustic whale tourism, and 6) reinforcing the environmental education. Authorities need to strengthen the monitoring, evaluate and control this growing tourist activity. Whale-watching activity produces important economic benefits for local people and neighboring, but to ensure the continuity of this activity, environmental authorities need to control this growing tourist activity.