Preliminary report on the impacts of swim-with-whale tourism on humpback whale behaviour in Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia
Stephanie H. Stack, Jessica A. McCordic, Abigail F. Machernis, Grace L. Olson and Jens J. Currie
The swim-with-whales (SWW) industry is rapidly growing; however, the literature to document the impacts of swimmers on target whale populations is currently limited. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) Scientific Committee has recommended that further research into the impacts from SWW programs is required and that a precautionary approach towards management of the industry should be taken until impacts are further understood. To fulfil the recommendations of the IWC, this study assesses the impacts of a newly sanctioned SWW program with humpback whales in Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia. Between 19 July 2018 and 15 September 2018, 19 dedicated SWW trips were run and 32 pods were encountered. The behaviour of humpback whales were evaluated in 15-minute intervals Before, During, and After swimmers were in the water. Across Before, During, and After intervals (â‰¥15 minutes), whales showed significant changes in the proportion of time spent in each behaviour. These changes occurred in both general behavioural states as well as more specific activity states. Between the During-After intervals, whales spent significantly less time interacting with the vessel, less time resting, and more time traveling. However, changes in the probability of behavioural state transitions analysed using Markov chains found no significant differences in transitions among the Before, During, and After intervals. Nineteen individual humpback whales were photographically identified and none were re-sighted within the same season during a SWW trip. It should be noted, that the results of this study are preliminary and represent only one season (six weeks) of data collection. Further data collection is needed to increase sample size and increase confidence in the results.