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Thursday, September 20, 2012

And the good news...whale watch regulations for Sri Lanka

Whale watch boats wait for the re-emergence of a blue whale, Mirissa, Sri Lanka.
Photo credit: Ashvin de Vos

A new set of Sea mammal regulations has been compiled under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance of Sri Lanka and will be presented to the Parliament by the Minister of Agrarian Services and Wildlife. While it seems to cover all angles of the industry, it is interesting to see what the full set of regulations looks like. While I understand that the prices quoted are an effort to maintain consistency amongst operators, it makes one wonder how it will change the industry. 

I agree that prices should be kept affordable for locals to enjoy what lies in our waters but at the quoted prices (Rs 20 per local adult) I question if the boats will be able to run beyond the entrance to the harbour. In addition, in light of our slipping economy $8 for a foreign adult will be next to nothing in no time (if it isn't already). Knowing full well that regulations of this nature remain stagnant over time, the fact that there appears to be no mention of a percentage increase in price from year to year is worrying. While I am aware that the full regulations do have a maximum passenger limit per vessel, at these prices, how will the industry survive and are we undercutting ourselves as a nation? 

There's plenty more to discuss on the snapshot provided by this article http://www.sundaytimes.lk/120916/news/strict-guidelines-set-for-whale-and-dolphin-watching-12755.html but perhaps I'll wait till I have analysed the full document to make my comments.   

Closing note: I have been pushing for whale watch regulations since 2003 when the Odyssey expedition of which I was part, brought media attention to the presence of a great number and variety of cetaceans in Sri Lankan waters. I pushed and argued for having regulations in place before an industry commenced (my first article on this matter was published in the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society journal 'Loris') but was opposed by a number of people, some from the tourism industry. Elsewhere in the world, research is conducted on cetacean populations to gain a good understanding of them and their habitat prior to the establishment of such an industry. That way, it is possible to look out for the impacts of disturbance and mitigate them. In Sri Lanka we are doing things inside out, with The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project running parallel to a growing whale watch industry. Wish us luck!