Watching Whales In East Asia
A total of 41 different species of whales and dolphins can be found off the coasts of these countries (almost half of all known cetacean species). These include the critically endangered Western Pacific grey and North Pacific right whales, the famous pink Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin and the minke whale – the latter, the species most frequently targeted by Japanese whalers.
Japanese whale watching, which focuses on some 20 species, began in 1988 and has grown significantly since. The most recent estimates reveal that Japan has more than 100,000 whale watchers in at least 20 communities, a sharp increase from around 11,000 in 1991. By contrast, the urban whale watching in Hong Kong, Province of China focuses on one species, the famous ‘pink dolphins’. In Taiwan, Province of China whale watching began fairly recently (in 1997), but has grown to more than 200,000 passengers per year from half a dozen ports, numbers now outstripping Japan. Korea currently has no commercial whale watching opportunities, but there is exciting potential for this to be developed, from land and by boat.
“It’s amazing to see how the communities in the region are enthusiastically embracing the concept of whale watching,” says Erich Hoyt, WDCS Senior Research Fellow and author of the report. “They recognize that the activity offers solid benefits, allowing local people to work together to develop an activity which – assuming trips are run to high standards – can be economically rewarding. With the presence of trained naturalist guides, whale watching can also contribute to environmental education, scientific research and conservation.”
The new guide leads the way in promoting the benefits of whale watching whilst also raising awareness of the animals and the threats they face. In many areas of the East Asian Pacific whaling is banned and dolphins are no longer hunted. However, in Japan, whales and dolphins are still killed in hunts for meat and some dolphins are taken alive to supply the captivity industry. In addition, whales and dolphins continue to face a range of serious threats across East Asia, including death in fishing nets, pollution, prey depletion and more.
"Whale watching presents truly sustainable economic opportunities for coastal communities in Japan and other countries across Asia and worldwide" said IFAW spokesperson Patrick Ramage. "Animals and people both do better when whales are seen and not hurt."
“Whale watching may be the start of a new way to look at whales in the region,” adds Hoyt, “But a full range of conservation measures needs to be adopted to safeguard cetacean populations in the region.”