[MARMAM] A decade of whale watching in an important tourist destination in the Pacific coast of Colombia: Challenges for proper management

Isabel Cristina Avila isabelc.avila at gmail.com
Tue Oct 5 10:07:06 PDT 2021

Avila, I.C., Ortega, L.F., Pretel, C. & G. Mayor. 2021. A decade of whale
watching in an important tourist destination in the Pacific coast of
Colombia: Challenges for proper management. Latin American Journal of
Aquatic Mammals 16(1) DOI: https://doi.org/10.5597/lajam00267

Abstract: Uramba Bahía Málaga Natural National Park is one of the most
places visited by tourists to see humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)
in Colombia. Humpback whales arrive from Southern Chile and the Antarctic
Peninsula every year between May and December to reproduce, give birth and
rear calves. To evaluate the current state of whale watching in Málaga we
analyzed tourist visitation data from 2011 to 2019 during the peak
whale-watching season (July–October), and during one week in October 2020.
We found that whale-watching activity has increased considerably. In 2019,
21,186 tourists realized whale watching in Málaga. Whale watchers per month
increased by 108% and monthly whale-watching boat trips increased by 140%,
in the last decade. Currently there are in average 19 boat trips per day
(±18.0), and most boats are small (≤15 m). Tourists came mainly from
Colombia (90%). August was the most important month for whale watching.
Although environmental education activities are undertaken, currently
responsible whalewatching guidelines are overlooked. At present,
whale-watching activity produces important economic benefits for local
people and neighboring sites, with a monthly expenditure of at least $362,409
USD, but to ensure the sustainable continuity of this activity, negative
impacts on whales need to be minimized. We classified management challenges
into social, economic and biological aspects. From a social perspective,
operators should form a whale-watching community association; this would
improve cooperation amongst operators, promote good practices in
whale-watching and reduce pressure on whales. Economic recommendations
include 1) whale-watching trips handled mainly by local people; 2) ticket
prices unification; and 3) investment in tourist facilities. Biological
recommendations focus on the welfare of whales and include: 1) follow the
current whalewatching recommendations strictly; 2) reduce transit
speeds to below
10 knots in the area during whale season; 3) use propeller guards; 4)
promote land-based whale watching; 5) implement acoustic whale tourism; 6)
reinforce environmental education programs; and 7) support long-term
monitoring and scientific research. Based on these three aspects, we urge
environmental and ethnic authorities, conferring with relevant
stakeholders, to determine the whale-watching carrying capacity of the area
and to promote a responsible tourism. Authorities need to strengthen the
monitoring, oversight and control of this growing tourist activity in order
to ensure its long-term persistence.


Isabel Cristina Avila Jiménez

Biologist PhD in Environmental Sciences
Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg, Germany

Marine biologist MSc
Universidad del Valle, Colombia

E-mails: isabel_c_avila at yahoo.com /  isabelc.avila at gmail.com



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