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04/03/2015 - 21:00

Whale-watching unlikely to impact minke whales


Whale watching as currently practised does not seem to be having any long-term negative effects on the life expectancy of minke whales, according to the recent study of Marianne H. Rasmussen, Director of the University of Iceland Húsavík Research Centre at al. An article on the study was recently published in The Journal of Wildlife Management.

The study was a part of Frederiks Christiansen‘s doctoral studies but he completed his joint doctoral degree from the University of Iceland and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland in 2013. Christiansen worked partly under the supervision of Marianne H. Rasmussen and David Lusseau, a scientist at the University of Aberdeen. Lussau had worked in New Zealand before and found that dolphin watching did have a negative impact on dolphins. “Lussau and I thus thought it important, in light of increasing popularity of whale watching tours in Iceland to study the effects on whales by the Icelandic coast,” says Rasmussen. Chiara Bertully, a doctoral student of Biology at the University of Iceland was also party to the research with Rasmussen, Christiansen and Lusseaus.

As the article, Estimating Cumulative Exposure of Wildlife to Non-Lethal Disturbance Using Spatially-Explicit Capture-Recapture Models explains, the researchers used, on the one hand, a land-based station at the lighthouse in Garðaskagaviti using theodolite to track the minke whales from land and with binoculars to spot the whales, and on the other from a whale watching boat using cameras to estimate the distance of the boat from the whales. 

The primary results of the study indicated that the whales’ behaviour was different in these variant conditions and that the operations of the whale watching boats influenced the minke whales feeding habits. As more data was accumulated, including photographic analysis where individual whales could be identified, the research group discovered that whale watching boats do not often encounter the same individuals and thus the overall impact of whale watching on minke whale feeding habits is negligible. The research group, therefore, concluded that whale watching in its current form is not likely to have long term negative impact on the animals’ viability.  

It bears mentioning that the article in The Journal of Wildlife Management is one of five scientific articles that Frederik Christiansen produced as part of his doctoral studies. He received a special award for his research at a conference on sea mammals in New Zealand in 2013. 

Researcher on a boat.