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Why Cambridge is the home of whale watching

The new handbook shows tourists and operators how to go whale watching without causing harm
The new handbook shows tourists and operators how to go whale watching without causing harm

Scientists at the International Whalaing Commission, based in Cambridgeshire village Impington, want whale watchers to enjoy seeing these animals in the wild without causing lasting harm. Their handbook spells out the dos and don'ts of whale watching

Watching whales in Argentina
Watching whales in Argentina

Keen whale watchers who want to know the best spots to visit and how to make their trip sustainable will find the answers they seek in Impington.

The village-based International Whaling Commission is launching an online handbook which contains comprehensive, impartial and free advice to would-be whale watchers in Cambridge and far beyond.

It’s aimed at protecting whale populations from the effects of tourism whilst supporting the whale watching industry, its regulators and members of the public who want to see whales in the wild without causing unnecessary harm.

Dr Rebecca Lent, the executive secretary at the IWC, said: “Situated so far from the coast, Cambridge might not be an immediately obvious location for a global handbook on whale watching, but when you consider the scientific and conservation pedigree of our city, we are a natural and proud home for this new resource. I hope it is well used by travellers from Cambridge and all over the world seeking an educational and sustainable whale watching experience.”

An estimated $2.1bn is spent by 13 million people who go whale watching each year. The new handbook aims to support the industry and its regulators, as well as members of the public, to ensure long-term sustainability, for both the whale populations and the communities whose prosperity has come to rely on their presence.

Dr Lent added: “Whales are very sensitive to sound, especially underwater sounds from boats, and this can have an impact on their ability to communicate, navigate and find food. Touching whales may not be healthy for them and of course they are dangerous creatures too –one flick of their tail could sink a boat.”

The starting point for the online handbook is the latest scientific understanding of potential whale watching impacts on individual whales, and on the long-term health of the populations being watched. It also covers advice for watching dolphins and porpoises.

“I’m certainly aware of a baby dolphin that died after being handed around at a beach. There are also incidences of people feeding dolphins which then encourages them to come close to beats and potentially get injured or killed by propellers.”

The handbook includes country and species information, case studies, and management advice, developed in consultation with governments, industry leaders and conservationists around the world.

The IWC worked with Chameleon Studios of Oakington to develop the handbook which currently runs to over 100 pages of fully searchable online content. Key features include an interactive world map that enables users to access information about whale watching in 25 featured countries, and a species section with annotated illustrations to learn more about particular whales and help identify them in the water.

Designed for use on mobile phones, tablets and desktop computers, the handbook also includes a variety of material for download, including species factsheets and a database of more than 300 peer-reviewed articles.

Visit wwhandbook.iwc.int.

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