WHS Summit Review, South Africa, 2017

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Whale Heritage Sites Summit Day 1

The Summit began with talks from interested parties, initial applicants, and candidate sites revealing what makes them special including:

  1. Hervey Bay, Australia (Peter Lynch, Blue Dolphin Marine Tours / FCTE)
  2. Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique (Diana Rocha, Dolphin Encountours)
  3. Durban and Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa (Mark Gerrard, Wildlands (Whale Time) and Riette Bennett (Advantage Tours)
  4. Port Elizabeth, South Africa (Lloyd Edwards, Raggy Charters)
  5. Nantucket Island, USA (Tobias Glidden)
  6. Praia do Forte, Brazil (Luena Fernandes, Humpback Whale Institute)
  7. Vancouver Island North, Canada (Jared Towers, NIMMSA, and Andrew Jones, Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures, via video recording)

Workshop – Whale Heritage Sites in Africa

Workshop participants applied the four criteria for WHS to African countries with limited resources with generally very positive results. Looking at both the costs and challenges of meeting each criterion, participants found that, in general, there was enough flexibility in the criteria to enable sites to achieve the required standards even with limited resources or funding, if they put together innovative projects and replicated success stories from other sites with similar challenges.

Examples of ideas that qualified as relatively ‘cheap and easy’ under the four criteria were:

Encouraging Respectful Human-Cetacean Coexistence (responsible whale watching)

  1. Training for skippers and guides
  2. Annual meetings / improved communication
  3. Vessel safety certificates a minimum for operation
  4. Use of trip advisor to demonstrate responsible practices and educational standards
  5. Provision of incentives for operators abiding by guidelines

Celebrating Cetaceans

  1. Whale heritage routes
  2. Sand sculptures
  3. Cetacean-related movies / cartoons
  4. School trips
  5. Folklore stories linking people with cetaceans
  6. Whale-branded products, such as Whale Ale Beer
  7. Ocean stewards initiatives
  8. Art gallery exhibitions with marine wildlife focus
  9. Local seafood dishes named after whales
  10. Cetacean sculptures, paintings, and competitions

Environmental, Social and Economic Sustainability

  1. Use local suppliers
  2. Aquaponics
  3. Community consultations
  4. Employment for local people
  5. Promoting beach clean ups
  6. Provision of training for local guides / skippers
  7. Native / fruit tree planting to offset carbon emissions

Research, Education and Awareness

  1. Training local community members to be involved in research projects / decision-making process
  2. Education projects that function at the heart of local communities
  3. Campaigns that fire the imagination of local people e.g. ‘tanks, no thanks’, ‘say no to one use straws / cups’
  4. Showcasing research and conservation initiatives
  5. Collaboration between scientists and whale watch operators
  6. High quality educational experiences onboard boats
  7. Make marine code of conduct visible to tourists and local people
  8. School projects that can be showcased at events
  9. Standardised data collection on all research platforms (including whale watching boats)
  10. Establish a festival with a focus on awareness and conservation of cetaceans
  11. Consider establishing whale routes, which could be land-based with simple information boards

Whale Heritage Sites Summit Day 2

Workshop activities on Day 2 focused on areas for improvement for Whale Heritage Sites, including both the criteria and process. The topics discussed, and points raised, are as follows:

Indigenous people

Following a keynote talk from David Schofield of NOAA on ‘managing a diversity of perceptions of marine mammals in Hawaii’, we discussed the importance of ensuring that indigenous people were more clearly incorporated into the WHS process:

  1. Appreciating that indigenous people often don’t recognize systems imposed by other cultures, such as geographic boundaries, or non-binding agreements such as Whale Heritage Sites
  2. Recognizing that direct reference to indigenous communities as distinct from other communities within the criteria would suggest positive discrimination and should be avoided
  3. Proposing that requesting information on indigenous communities present in a proposed WHS is an essential early step
  4. Having identified that indigenous communities are present, providing advice to applicants that consulting with and empowering all communities, including indigenous communities, will be a requirement in order to proceed through the process.

Whale Heritage Trails

There has been some discussion within the WHS Steering Committee on the possibility of developing Whale Heritage Trails. These would be routes linking Whale Heritage Sites, potentially following a whale migration route or a former whaling route, for example. Alternatively these routes could include sites that meet the criteria through the route rather than in isolation.

Workshop discussions quickly focused on the possibility of developing ‘walking trails’ within sites, rather than links between sites. Advantages of this approach include:

  1. Trail could include cultural as well as natural elements and information
  2. Free and healthy way to encourage local community involvement
  3. Links sites through migratory routes
  4. Can be incorporated into tours
  5. Could form part of annual events with guides positioned along walking trails with activities
  6. A potentially important element of WHS
  7. Trails could be WCA accredited if they meet criteria – for example providing information on cetaceans, heritage, conservation, and sustainability
  8. Potential to cross-link and cross-market trails, set up partnerships or twinning initiatives
  9. Opportunity to share ideas and initiatives to ensure trails are effective

Accreditation process

Currently applicants for WHS go through a two-stage process: 1) Candidate Site; 2) Accredited Site. Candidate Sites have been accepted onto the programme by the WHS Steering Committee following a simple initial application. To become a Candidate Site requires a payment of £4,000 and the subsequent completion of a report to help the site to prepare for full accreditation. Currently, the number of initial applicants converting to Candidate Sites is quite low, which could be due to cost or capacity to move forward, or a combination of the two.

Workshop members suggested moving to a three tier system to enable sites to begin the process of accreditation at a lower fee and potentially with less restrictions. This would enable sites to feel like they were making more progress as they moved through the three stages, and might feel less overwhelming than the current two-stage process. One suggestion was to move to a ‘Candidate’, ‘Approved’, and ‘Accredited’ system. It was acknowledged that further discussions on the finer detail would be required.

Captivity and Whale Heritage Sites

Currently, any applicant for Whale Heritage Site status must not have a captive cetacean facility within its boundaries. However, we are increasingly encountering sites wishing to apply that have captive facilities. Applicants working within these sites are often campaigning to bring an end to the facilities, and view WHS as another tool to help them to do so. Other sites are focused on improving responsible whale watching, and cannot do so using WHS as a tool because they have a captive facility within the site. The types of captive facilities are also changing rapidly and adding to the debate. Would a sanctuary be acceptable within WHS? Would a captive facility preparing its cetaceans for a sanctuary and no longer conducting performance shows qualify as a Candidate Site?

The following points were made by workshop participants:

  1. There should be the highest of standards for designated WHS, but we need to address those sites not quite achieving standards.
  2. Can we have the option of areas remaining candidate sites for 20 years if they do not meet full standards?
  3. We need to identify standards for captive facilities really trying to change – giving them the opportunity to change.
  4. Balance required taking into account different viewpoints and stakeholder interests.
  5. Could have a “recognition scheme”- with different levels under WHS framework to address and recognise action taken to resolve issues.
  6. Captive facilities have the potential to pay to retire their animals.
  7. Need to bring the captivity industry into the WHS discussion, because even without cetaceans, there will be captive facilities within WHS.
  8. Can WCA look at a mechanism to change facilities – such as requiring an immediate end to breeding and no introduction of captive animals
  9. The WHS is the “gold standard”. So it is a challenge to accept captive facilities.
  10. Suggest sanctuaries are acceptable within WHS – providing involvement of captive facilities at sanctuaries using their husbandry expertise etc.
  11. Need to be clear what constitutes a sanctuary
  12. WCA is in a strong position to be able to ‘hand hold’ the travel industry through this process
  13. Standard for accepting a site would need to be high (such as the Baltimore National Aquarium decision to end captivity in next 20 years and relocate their cetaceans to sanctuaries).
  14. Contribution to funds – allocated funds of captive facilities should be used to set up sanctuaries (eg contributions over 3 years to a sanctuary Fund).
  15. Need to be careful that the message the public receive is a clear one.

Workshop activities

Bid presentations for the 2019 World Whale Conference and Whale Heritage Sites Summit

The Summit received two excellent bid presentations for the 2019 World Whale Conference and Whale Heritage Sites Summit;

  • Praia do Forte, Bahia, Brazil – Luena Fernandes, Humpback Whale Institute
  • Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia – Peter Lynch, Blue Dolphin Tours / Fraser Coast Tourism and Events

The WCA Global Council will be requesting further information and a decision is likely in September / October 2017. Our goal is for WCA conferences to be inclusive of all regions. Previous conferences have taken place in Europe, North America, and now Africa, so the current bids from Oceania and Latin America are most gratefully received.

Launch – Whale Heritage Fund

Acting as a globally recognised way to identify and award destinations that implement and celebrate responsible whale and dolphin watching, Whale Heritage Sites are locations where coastal communities respect and celebrate cetaceans and marine biodiversity through conservation action and cultural activities represented by the arts, music, science, education and events. These sites will deliver long-term protection for marine habitats and sustainable development for the coastal communities that depend on the sea by inspiring local people to value their whale heritage.

The costs of accreditation for Whale Heritage Sites can act as a potential barrier for their implementation in certain developing regions, including across southern Africa. That’s why we launched the Whale Heritage Fund in Durban, to help local communities across the world conserve and protect cetaceans, whilst aiding sustainable development and environmental awareness. From a small to a large donation, your support can help the many communities, sites and cetaceans in need across the world!

For more information go to: https://chuffed.org/project/communities-for-whales


The WCA would like to acknowledge the many individuals and organisations that helped to bring together the conference and summit. In particular we would like to thank our hosts and sponsors, Virgin Holidays and the Durban Kwazulu-Natal Convention Bureau. Thanks also to our many speakers, workshop organisers, symposium chairs, and attendees. Together you helped make this event a resounding success. Finally, we would like to thank the many people representing the WCA Partnership, Trustees, and the Secretariat, both staff and volunteers, who committed so much time and energy to bring this important event to life. We look forward to seeing you at the next conference in 2019!

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