The waters close to the Island of Ilha De Mozambique appear to be the main birthing site for humpback whales migrating up the East African coast. A lack of formal research means there is no scientific evidence to prove this, but regular sighting of newborn calf’s would indicate this to be true. In any event it is clearly an area of major cetacean significance, its not uncommon to see 6 or 7 pods simultaneously displaying spectacular mating behaviour.
A situation has arisen where several boat owners are now taking tourists out to see the whales, each making competing claims about how close they can get to the whales. As a consequence tourists are developing unrealistic expectations and the whales are getting harassed: chased, blocked and possibly even collided with. It’s important to remember that these are often mothers with newborn calf’s, quite possibly nursing at the time of the intrusion. Towards the end of the last season responsible whale watch operators experienced whales changing their behaviour, pods moving away as boats approached even within 500m – this has never been reported before.
Harassment of breeding whales is not unique to this location in Mozambique, however Mozambique deserves special attention as it is a new development in a little known birthing site. Fortunately bad practices and unrealistic visitor expectations are not yet entrenched, so a well planned, urgent intervention could not only stop the situation from getting worse but transform it into a shining example of best practice whale watching.
Currently there is some collaboration on a plan to educate visitors about behaving responsibly around breeding whales, to equip tourism operators with the knowledge and skills to provide visitors with exceptional experiences that don’t negatively impact the whales, and to share with the local community information about the possible benefits of being located in an area of outstanding natural significance such as this.
In the long term there is a need to attract scientific researchers here to establish the case for ongoing, formal whale protection. More immediately, there is an urgent need for enthusiastic volunteers to contribute to the short term goals of raising standards through education and awareness raising.
– WCA Partner Ilha Blue