From 1970 to 1998 inclusive, the Zoological Society of Montreal organized whale watch excursions to the Gulf of St. Lawrence region. The first organization in Canada to sponsor these trips, our primary objective was always to help gain support for the cause of whale conservation by introducing people to these magnificent mammals in their natural environment. For 29 consecutive years, the Society was unwavering in its dedication to whale protection. In addition to whale watch cruises, the Society also financially supported whale conservation efforts, such as in 1989, when we "adopted" a St. Lawrence beluga whale for an "adoption fee" of $5000.
The past few years saw an ever increasing number of whale watch boats in the region, as well as a greater diversity of types of craft, including many small boats and inflatables. At times, the number of boats far exceeded the number of whales in a given area. Whale watching had become big business; people wanted to see whales and there was certainly no fault to find with their wishes. After all, our own groups were just as much a part of the equation, and it would not have been justified to condemn others while at the same time promoting our own interests.
Whale watchers near Tadoussac
(George Midgley Photo)
For us, the problem was the industry itself. There existed few regulations and little enforcement. There were regulations to protect the St. Lawrence beluga, for this whale is on the Endangered Species List and, as such, was not generally approached too closely, nor was it followed.
Unfortunately, for the larger migratory whales, it was quite a different story. We had on occasion, seen small boats and, in particular, Zodiacs racing at high speed in hot pursuit of even a single minke whale.
There were two opposing views on this issue, one being that whale watching had no adverse effects on whales, and the other the complete reverse, i.e. that whales were indeed adversely affected by whale watching. The truth was that we really did not know the effect increased human presence was having on whales, and in this truth was our dilemma.
We had always been, first and last, a conservation organization dedicated to protecting wildlife. Although our motives in organizing whale watch cruises had always been unquestionably in keeping with our mandate, it was possible we were now in a situation whereby we were harming rather than helping whales as a result of the lack of structure within the industry and the unknown effect the industry's ever increasing popularity was having on whales.
We therefore decided that, as of Summer 1999, we would no longer offer whale watch cruises in our slate of field trips.
Whale surfacing beside ship
(George Midgley Photo)
We made our position known to both the federal and provincial governments, as well as to various other conservation groups, especially other whale watch promoters, as we welcomed their opinions and input on this matter.
We hoped these efforts would help pressure those implicated to take the necessary steps to regulate the industry in a way that would make it possible for concerned conservationists such as ourselves to once again venture out into the world of whales.
Whale Watching Update
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This page last modified on: Wednesday, October 22, 2003
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