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Why Norwegian minke whaling is cruel, shameful and pointless

If you're a fan of the quiz show, Pointless, you'll be familiar with its format...
Captive dolphins perform for cruise passengers at the Costa Maya Resort, Mexico

Tourist hotspots to roadside zoos – investigating the many faces of dolphin captivity in Latin America and the Caribbean

It's the paradise dream - a bright blue sea against a backdrop of palm trees,...
Watching dolphins from the beach in Scotland: WDC/Charlie Phillips

Lockdown is lifting and the beach is calling – if you see a whale or dolphin how will you behave?

We have all become more aware of giving one another space and respecting social distancing....
Risso's dolphins are captured in Taiji hunt. Image: LIA and Dolphin Project

Heartbreak and practical action – the horror of the Taiji dolphin hunts and one Japanese activist’s determination

Back in November, I shared my heartache at the drama unfolding in the waters off...
Common Dolphin

Goodbye Bycatch – what have we achieved and what’s next?

Thank you to everyone who's got involved with our campaign to stop dolphins, porpoises and...
Haul of sea bass on French pair trawlers, Le Baron and Magellan, fishing in the English channel. Greenpeace is currently in the English channel protesting against pelagic pair trawling due to the high numbers of dolphin deaths associated with it.

Seaspiracy

Ali and Lucy Tabrizi's Netflix film Seaspiracy is compelling viewing for anyone who cares for...
Porpoise, Conwy Wales. WDC

Why do porpoises and dolphins find it so difficult to avoid fishing nets?

When a dolphin or porpoise is caught or entangled in fishing gear it's known as...
WDC NA

Reflection – what this remarkable whale teaches us about humpbacks and their fascinating lives

Reflection, like all humpback whales, was born with a unique black and white pattern on...
All policy news
  • All policy news
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Stop whaling
Sperm whale © Douglas Hoffman

Featured policy news item

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Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque

Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque Following a three...

Endangered Southern Resident orca loses newborn calf

In heartbreaking news from the Pacific Northwest, the Center for Whale Research has reported that...
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U.S. Defense Bill weakens protections for whales

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Doubts remain after Icelandic Marine Institute claims slaughtered whale was a hybrid not a blue

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Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning - this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting* They say a...
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One step closer to more salmon for endangered Southern Resident orcas

On June 28, 2018, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) filed “The Definite Plan” for...
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Narwhals and Bowhead whales threatened by new Arctic shipping routes

A NASA-funded study has warned that marine creatures like whales and dolphins will be exposed...
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Japan set to resume commercial whaling

Reports from Japan suggest that the government they will formally propose plans to resume commercial...
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Iceland flouts international ban to slaughter first protected fin whale of new hunting season

Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf has slaughtered an endangered fin whale today in defiance of...
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Southern Resident orca L92 missing as community returns to the Salish Sea

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New actions in the Northwest to help Southern Resident orcas and salmon

As the Washington State Task Force starts to examine threats to the endangered Southern Resident...
All articles
  • All articles
  • About whales & dolphins
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Scottish Dolphin Centre
  • Stop whaling

Why Norwegian minke whaling is cruel, shameful and pointless

If you're a fan of the quiz show, Pointless, you'll be familiar with its format...
Captive dolphins perform for cruise passengers at the Costa Maya Resort, Mexico

Tourist hotspots to roadside zoos – investigating the many faces of dolphin captivity in Latin America and the Caribbean

It's the paradise dream - a bright blue sea against a backdrop of palm trees,...
Watching dolphins from the beach in Scotland: WDC/Charlie Phillips

Lockdown is lifting and the beach is calling – if you see a whale or dolphin how will you behave?

We have all become more aware of giving one another space and respecting social distancing....
Risso's dolphins are captured in Taiji hunt. Image: LIA and Dolphin Project

Heartbreak and practical action – the horror of the Taiji dolphin hunts and one Japanese activist’s determination

Back in November, I shared my heartache at the drama unfolding in the waters off...
Common Dolphin

Goodbye Bycatch – what have we achieved and what’s next?

Thank you to everyone who's got involved with our campaign to stop dolphins, porpoises and...
Haul of sea bass on French pair trawlers, Le Baron and Magellan, fishing in the English channel. Greenpeace is currently in the English channel protesting against pelagic pair trawling due to the high numbers of dolphin deaths associated with it.

Seaspiracy

Ali and Lucy Tabrizi's Netflix film Seaspiracy is compelling viewing for anyone who cares for...
Porpoise, Conwy Wales. WDC

Why do porpoises and dolphins find it so difficult to avoid fishing nets?

When a dolphin or porpoise is caught or entangled in fishing gear it's known as...
WDC NA

Reflection – what this remarkable whale teaches us about humpbacks and their fascinating lives

Reflection, like all humpback whales, was born with a unique black and white pattern on...
All policy news
  • All policy news
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Stop whaling
Sperm whale © Douglas Hoffman

Featured policy news item

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nunc magna elit, gravida at lectus vitae,...
sea_world_orlando_rob_lott

Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque

Holiday giant Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to Seaworld and Loro Parque Following a three...

Endangered Southern Resident orca loses newborn calf

In heartbreaking news from the Pacific Northwest, the Center for Whale Research has reported that...
srkw_shoup_2003_text

U.S. Defense Bill weakens protections for whales

24 July 2018, Plymouth, MA: The FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act conference report was released...

Doubts remain after Icelandic Marine Institute claims slaughtered whale was a hybrid not a blue

Experts remain sceptical of initial test results issued by the Icelandic Marine Institute, which indicate...
f0k5103-2

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning - this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting* They say a...
iron_gate_dam_klamath

One step closer to more salmon for endangered Southern Resident orcas

On June 28, 2018, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) filed “The Definite Plan” for...
monodon_monoceros-wdc3

Narwhals and Bowhead whales threatened by new Arctic shipping routes

A NASA-funded study has warned that marine creatures like whales and dolphins will be exposed...
japanese_whaling_2005_-_minke_whales_credit_jeremy_sutton-hibbert_for_use_until_28.2.17_1

Japan set to resume commercial whaling

Reports from Japan suggest that the government they will formally propose plans to resume commercial...
hvalfjordur_035

Iceland flouts international ban to slaughter first protected fin whale of new hunting season

Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf has slaughtered an endangered fin whale today in defiance of...
l92_dave_ellifrit_cwr

Southern Resident orca L92 missing as community returns to the Salish Sea

We are very sad to share news announced today by the Center for Whale Research...
whale_alert_flag_san_juan_county

New actions in the Northwest to help Southern Resident orcas and salmon

As the Washington State Task Force starts to examine threats to the endangered Southern Resident...

Frozen waste – missed opportunity to address deep concerns over Norway’s ‘snorkel-with-orcas’ tours

Beats me why anyone would want to snorkel in the deep, dark ice-cold waters off Northern Norway at this time of year. Even the prospect of encountering orcas - my all-time favourite whale or dolphin species - would not be enough to tempt me, even in a dry suit!  At Whale and Dolphin Conservation, we have a long-standing policy of recommending that you don’t enter the water with whales and dolphins, for their safety and welfare, as well as yours. It strikes me that nowhere in the world is this advice more apt than these Arctic waters, where the sun barely rises for half the year.  

A snorkelling tour boat approaches an orca. © Steve Truluck.
A snorkelling tour boat approaches an orca. © Steve Truluck.

And yet, just a few seconds on Google throws up a dozen companies offering ‘snorkel with orcas’ tours alongside the whale watching and Northern Lights trips you’d expect to see on a holiday itinerary in the Arctic North.

So I’m giving a moderate whoop of joy at the news that the Norwegian Fisheries Directorate has finally issued whale watch regulations as this is certainly progress. Until now, Norway has lacked any formal regulations governing whale watching and snorkelling with whales.  Whilst the better operators have been observing the excellent local guidelines endorsed by Visit Tromsø which strongly discourage any in-water activities (snorkelling, swimming or diving) with whales, other operators have exploited the lack of legal sanctions and dropped people in the water with impunity.

A snorkeller with a pair of orcas © Rob Lott.
A snorkeller with a pair of orcas © Rob Lott.

It is important to note too, that outside the Tromsø region, guidelines relate solely to snorkelling with orcas and only in certain locations or times of year. They strongly discourage swimming, diving or free-diving with orcas or any other whale species, such as humpbacks: yet this advice is routinely ignored. Only last week, I saw social media posts of a diver with a humpback calf off Skjervøy, northeast of Tromsø.

But let’s hope that this free-for-all is coming to an end. Last spring, the Norwegian Fisheries Directorate declared its intention to put regulations in place and invited input from a number of stakeholders - including us - following what they described as a series of conflicts and potentially dangerous situations.

The problem is that orcas, the focal species for most snorkellers, are naturally attracted to fishing boats, in the hope of snatching herring from the nets. Snorkellers follow the orcas, but may find themselves dangerously close to the fishing boats. A spokesperson recently commented: ‘The Directorate of Fisheries, the coast guard and the fishing fleet have observed people swimming just metres from moving vessels. This poses a major risk to safety.’ There have been calls too, for any vessels putting people in the water to be clearly flagged, so that fishing boats and other vessels are aware of people in the water.

Last month, Rolf Harald Jensen, Director of the Maritime Service of the Northern Fisheries Directorate, blasted ‘dive with orca’ tours after further dangerous incidents around fishing boats, saying: ‘We have a clear strategy that we do not go in the water with these animals because of safety. There should be no people in the water. We believe it is not justifiable, and there are a number of countries that already follow such regulations… we are genuinely worried that things will go wrong. It also makes the work situation difficult for crews on fishing boats. They need to shift their focus away from what they are actually doing and spend energy watching people who cannot take care of their own safety. Ultimately, there is a danger to life.’

He cited a recent video taken by one of his inspectors, which shows the crew of a fishing vessel turning on the vessel’s powerful vacuum pump system. Fortunately, the inspector spotted two divers swimming in pitch black conditions, perilously close to the pump. His cries alerted crew members and the pump was turned off, but this was a close call for the divers.  Jensen commented: ‘The pump is designed to suck the catch into the boat, along with water and it operates under high pressure. What comes in the immediate vicinity will be sucked up - including a diver if they get too close. In this case, they were too close. They could have gone in the pump and risked perishing.’

It is good to see that whale watch boats are now legally required to remain at least 370m from fishing vessels or fixed fishing gear, with double that distance for people in the water. This will hopefully end those high-risk interactions around fishing boats, but the regulations are otherwise disappointingly brief and lacking in detail – they appear to be focussed on protecting fishing activities rather than providing comprehensive guidance to the whale watch and dive-with-orcas industry.

Getting into the water remains risky - many trips state that no experience is necessary yet, even in dry suits, the icy Arctic waters off Norway are dangerous. The combination of deep, dark or freezing waters and strong waves may soon tire an inexperienced swimmer or trigger a pre-existing medical condition.

A snorkeller in the ice-cold waters of Arctic Norway © Steve Truluck.
A snorkeller in the ice-cold waters of Arctic Norway © Steve Truluck.

Norway is a great place to go whale watching but having visited the region during the winter months, I can honestly recommend staying topside and enjoying the spectacular marine life from the comfort and safety of a boat!

 WDC says:

  • Last June, we worked with in-country experts to provide advice to the government consultation and urged the prompt enactment of official regulations. We are delighted that these are now in place, but the detail is disappointing and it’s clearly a missed opportunity. We need detailed guidance relating to vessel behaviour, and we need adequate monitoring and enforcement of the regulations.
  • We welcome the Norwegian government’s acknowledgement that there is a problem, but they need to do far more to address the dangers around dropping people into dark, Arctic waters alongside huge orcas and humpback whales.
  • We are actively participating in CMS (the Convention on Migratory Species, the body that works to protect species that cross national borders) and IWC (International Whaling Commission, the body that regulates whale hunting) Working Groups on marine mammal watching, including in-water activities.

 

Want to get close to an orca?

Adopt an orca for yourself or as a gift and follow their fascinating life...

Vanessa Williams-Grey

About Vanessa Williams-Grey

Policy manager - Stop Whaling and Responsible Whale Watching

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