Monday, December 9, 2019

World Whale Conference, Hervey Bay 2019

Futurismo has been represented at the World Whale Conference in Hervey Bay, Australia! The conference took place between 8-11 October 2019 and was organized by the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) and Fraser coast Tourism & Events.

The WCA strives, together with its partners, to keep the cetaceans in their natural habitat and not in captivity, to protect them and their habitats, and run sustainable whale watching activities. The global community of the WCA consists of partners that study, protect, and respect cetaceans in the wild.

We, Futurismo, are members of the WCA, and attended the conference because we believe in responsible whale watching. This conference is very insightful and inspires us to continuously evolve our techniques and approaches during the whale watching trips, whilst respecting the whales and dolphins.

If you have missed our last article about the beginning of the conference, refer to the link here.

During the conference, lectures were given by different stakeholders, which gave us a large variety of lectures to listen to, and they were all very inspirational. This fit very well with the theme of this conference “journeys that inspire change”. Some of the highlights of the conference’s lectures were as follows:

Whale watching and Akrasia – an uneasy relationship?

Michael Lück, a Professor at Auckland University, presented a controversial topic that is present in whale watching activities. Akrasia is defined as “A deficient capacity to contain or restrain one’s desire based on the perceived pleasure of an activity overriding better judgement.” So, the example used, that is often found in whale watching, is feeding wildlife. We know that feeding wildlife is harming the animals, but our “guilty pleasure” comes out because we want to see the animals close, so it becomes an ethical dilemma. Do we satisfy our pleasure, even though we know it is wrong? There are many other tourist activities that can be considered controversial and bad for cetaceans, yet tourists buy tickets to do the activity anyway. Why is this? The first reason that Lück came up with was the lack of knowledge. Often tourists are unaware that certain activities are harmful to the animal, and often the tourist only finds out after the activity has been done. So, what can be done to prevent tourists to pay for harmful akratic activities? Awareness needs to be created about the activity, so that the knowledge is there. Then, the knowledge should be spread prior to the activity, to understand consequences of the ticket that they bought and the activity that they are supporting. This way the tourist can fully understand what they are paying for, without regrets after realizing they were supporting a harmful activity. 

Swimming with humpback whales in Tonga and in Reunion island.

Swimming with whales has been the centre of attention at this conference and two speakers, Lorenzo Fiori and Ludovic Hoarau, had two separate presentations on a similar topic, both looking at the behavioural responses of mother and calf pairs to the swimming-with-humpback-whale activities. In two different places of the world, both studies showed negative impacts of swimming with humpback whale activities. Imagery during the presentation of Ludovic had shown that the humpback whales displayed agonistic behaviour when the tourists were swimming with the humpback whales. Agonistic behaviour is defined as a social behaviour related to fighting. Lorenzo Fiori for example also showed that the mother humpback whales spent more time resting underneath the surface. But since calves cannot hold their breath for as long as their mom, this resulted in the calf resting at the surface for prolonged periods without the mom. Ludovic has seen similar behaviour in Reunion, and even showed that a female humpback whale was literally moving tourists away with its pectoral fin. Lorenzo showed footage where the calf was showing agonistic behaviour directly to tourists. One of the main problems with swimming with whales in general is that often regulations are not followed, and too many tour-operators in the area of single mother and calf pairs. So, if tourists want to swim with humpback whales, or with any other marine mammal species, it is important to check if the tourist operators are following the regulations, and if they are in an area where they are protected.
One suggestion to improve the activity is to have a set up as the image below. 

© Blabla prod. – La Reunion – Octobre 2018

The dolphin captivity problem and possible solutions

The lecture by Christina Rose, a representative of the World Animal Protection was focusing on solutions to captivity. She was saying that captivity of marine mammals is not the future activity of these days. She said: “Captivity is no life for any marine mammal and can never fulfil a wildlife animal’s needs”. The animals are sexually manipulated to reproduce, they cannot search for food, travel, travel to the depths, and cannot socialize in captivity. All this is just for human entertainment.
In her talk she mentions that captivity is not necessary for tourists to get close to animals. Particularly in Australia, you can see the animals from the beach. Yet, tourists still decide to buy tickets to see these animals imprisoned in captivity. But if we want to stop captivity, what can we do with the marine mammals that are already in captivity? Releasing them back to the wild is also not possible, although it would be the right thing to do. What happens to the marine mammals in captivity is that they get institutionalized. They get fed, are trained to do tricks, and they become dependent of human care. As they get so used to life in captivity (and many have never seen the real ocean) they cannot survive in the wild straight away. So, this is a part of what the World Animal Protection is working on. They are trying to find a way to transition a way out of captivity. The aim is to make this the last generation of dolphins in captivity. Then, the idea is to transition the current marine mammals in captivity into a wildlife sanctuary, in order to introduce them back into the wild. They are investigating the feasibility of a dolphin sanctuary, because the dolphins will continue to need provisioning, and feasibility is currently unknown. In addition to this, there is a need to educate tourist what are appropriate wildlife encounters, so that people stop going to see the animals in captivity. Lastly, there is a need to equip the industry of captivity, so that they can cooperate.

To conclude

Akrasia is an interesting concept that not everybody may be aware of. Literally it is defined as "the state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgement through weakness of will". This is important in order to maintain sustainability in whale watching.  Some activities may be unsustainable and harmful towards cetaceans, even though people may secretly like it, such as dolphins in captivity. Cetaceans in captivity is something that Futurismo highly disagrees with, so it is great to see that this point of view is shared at the conference. The swimming with humpback whales can be quite controversial as well, and in certain parts of the world is also considered unsustainable. It is important for us to hear why these activities have become unsustainable, to learn from others in order to do things in the right way: in a respectful way. Therefore, we attend these conferences and enjoy hearing and understanding scientists, locals, guides, citizens and governments’ perspectives; and each perspective is equally important for the entire picture of whale watching activities.

Written by Fadia Al Abbar

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Bright morning with risso's dolphins and common dolphins

Today it was another cloudy day but with a beautiful and calm sea. Really close to the harbour we stopped in one area with a lot of common dolphins. 

The adults were very active, mating and showed us the belly. Also it was plenty of calves, they were all the time swimming along adult individuals because they spend their first year learning everything from them. Today it was a really good day to take pictures of this species to improve our Photo ID catalogue.

Common dolphins are a resident species and with the dorsal fins we can identify the groups and study its distribution. 

Then one of our lookouts observed 7 miles further out a sperm whale's blow. We headed to that area to use our hydrophone, trying to listen the clicks of sperm whale echolocation. With no results of underwater noises we remained in that area waiting to complete the average diving time of 45 minutes. After that time...nothing. Unfortunately sometimes nature it's not on our side. 

Another of our lookouts sighted closer to land other resident 
species that we hadn't seen for quite some time: Risso's dolphins! It was a small group but we could see some babies! 

So we could observe the differences between adults (full of scars) and calves (completely black). And today we had on board a different kind of guest, a dog! 

Zuca it's a female dog that love to travel on board of boats doing whale watching. And today we had the luck to listen her barking to indicate the presence of the dolphins! What a wonderful fluffy lookout!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Three species of dolphins sighted today in São Miguel!

Today it was cloudy and the lack of light gave the sea surface a really intense grey coloration. Still, and always with the essential help of the lookout, we were lucky to find three different dolphin species. 

The morning started with the resident common dolphins that we all love, at first it seemed they were very spread out and not very curious but as time passed their behaviour changed and we could see a beautiful bowriding show. 

Photo by Georgina Cabayol

After that we found a big group of Atlantic spotted dolphins. 

Photo by Georgina Cabayol

Photo by Georgina Cabayol

Photo by Georgina Cabayol

There were lots of birds with them, mainly Cory's shearwaters and great shearwater but we also could see a great skua. 

Photo by Georgina Cabayol

Photo by Georgina Cabayol

They were all interacting and feeding together, and the dolphins had a lot of babies with them. After that we spent some time searching for a sperm whale that the lookout saw at the beginning of the morning but we couldn't find it. We knew it was somewhere near but we had to leave to the area as other species were waiting for us. 

Last species of the day was the bottlenose dolphin, they are almost double the size of the other two species and we could really feel the difference in size. 

They were a big group of more than 50 individuals. They were very close to shore and they made our way back to Ponta Delgada way more enjoyable.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Flat sea, extremely cristaline water and lots of animals

All these three factors allowed us to enjoy a beautiful morning that fullfilled our desire of ocean and recharged our batteries. 

We started the morning with a spread out group of common dolphins, we could get an idea of the size of the group as we were seeing fins everywhere we look, but we never had many individuals next to our boat. 

Cetaceans behaviours can vary a lot in the wild, we have to remember we are in their environment and not the other way. 

After the common dolphins we headed towards our favorite sperm whale, Mr Liable. This time it stayed on the surface for a bit longer and we could enjoy its anatomic features. For one more time we were lucky to see its enormous tail, with its characteristic wavy contour. 

On our way back to Ponta Delgada we found a big group of Atlantic spotted dolphins, the water was so clear that it seemed we were underwater swimming along them. What a beautiful sighting! What a wonderful day!

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Sperm whale and feeding frenzy in São Miguel

Who said summer is over? If it wasn't for the cold wind it would be a perfect summer day.

When we started our morning trip our lookout warned that our most sighted sperm whale was here again... Mr Liable! He took a 50-minute dive and then came back to the surface full of strength. What a giant blow!! 



When it came back to the surface breathing was a little far from our boat, but we got there! He was very relaxed on the surface with calm and spaced breaths. After 10 minutes of observation then he went for another feeding dive and, obviously, showed his tail in slow motion.


Then we heard on the radio that there was a lively area near the airport... hundreds of Atlantic spotted dolphins feeding! Who said spotted dolphins only show up in the summer? If we have plenty of small fish and warm water obviously they are still here. 


We were delighted to see the feeding of these spotted friends when a big splash appears ... A school of several tuna jumped at the same time! Wow! It looked like we were watching a National Geographic documentary with dolphins, tuna, fish, gulls and cory's shearwater… so much to see! It is not only in summer that great sightings of cetaceans are made... all year long there is much to see!


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Whales day with sperm whales and fin whales!

After our last days at sea, our team had a good feeling about the day and soon enough they were confirmed! Our lookouts said from the start that he hadn't seen any dolphins but the sea was covered with blows. After almost an hour travelling, we came across the animals our lookouts told us to go after. 

At a distance we already could spot different blows and tail throwing from Sperm Whales and we approached two juveniles as they were swimming along side each other and probably waited for the mother. They were very curious towards us and they got even more excited when their family came to the surface. 

By the end of the observation, we counted more than 10 sperm whales around us, socializing and just hanging around that area while the adult sperm whales were feeding on the deep. 

After a few minutes of being with the pod of sperm whales we left them as our lookouts told us to go even further away from the island to check some bigger blows! And bigger indeed. Two fin whales at this time of the year, most likely headed to the breeding grounds, South of here. They were travelling very fast and just breathing once between each dive. 

After we decided to see the whales one more time, they appeared and one showed the tail! A very unusual thing for a fin whale to do and we had the good fortune to witness that. All of our guests were thrilled to see that tail and the crew was even more excited! 

One more proof that Winter is just as fun as the Summer!

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