Our response is always the same: We totally get that people love the idea of being in the water with these beautiful creatures. However the reality is that it can be a really intrusive and stressful experience for the whales or dolphins targeted so we strongly discourage it and instead, advise people to go whale watching with a responsible operator, as a wonderful alternative that can benefit people and whales and dolphins.
We are not alone. Most countries with whale watch regulations either prohibit or strongly advise against swim-with, due to concerns about the safety and welfare of both swimmers and whales and dolphins.
The evidence really stacks up:
Swim tour boats can disturb whales and dolphins:
- Swim-tour operators need to drop clients in the water close to whales or dolphins, increasing the likelihood of their everyday life and routine being disturbed, or being struck by boats.
- These interruptions can be particularly harmful to mothers with calves. Over time, they may even have effects on the health and reproductive success of the population.
- When their lives are interrupted by snorkellers, whales or dolphins can spend less time socializing, resting or being active ; they might change direction or dive to avoid swim tour boats. They might even abandon their usual habitat in favour of quieter areas.
It is easy for us to be excited at the idea of being in the water with whales or dolphins, but we forget that we are entering their realm as uninvited guests and our presence may not always be welcome.
Imagine sitting in your dining room. It is Sunday lunchtime and the table is heaped with food. Your dad is serving roast potatoes whilst your sister is helping her two year-old son eat his lunch. Suddenly, a coach squeals to a halt outside your front door and thirty people rush into your house, excitedly chatting and taking photographs from all angles. Eating is forgotten as children wail with anxiety, unsure about what is going on. Hard to cope with once, but what if that becomes your daily reality?
Dangers to swimmers in the open ocean
It’s not just the whales and dolphins who are at risk:
■ Whales and dolphins are large (often extremely large) and typically, are robust and powerful. They may react unpredictably - this is especially true of females with young calves - and may injure people who get too close
■ This high-risk activity is not always covered by travel insurance
■ Many encounters take place in deep waters with strong currents or waves, which can be alarming if you are not a confident swimmer.