Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Protecting Panama's dolphins

Now the International Whaling Commission is drawing to a close I can reveal a little about some of our successes at the meeting.

Firstly we drew attention to the poor beleaguered population of bottle nose dolphins in Bocas del Toro, Panama. This population of less than 200 animals ISPs the focus of o huge amount of dolphin-watching activity. I personally saw 6 boats around a small group of 5 or six animals, and colleagues say that up to 25 is common, although we did get reports of sometimes nearly a hundred boats chasing dolphins in the high season. For the record, Panama has great dolphin watching regulations, some of the best in the world. But boat operators either don't know about them, or typically don't care. There is certainly no enforcement. I should add that not all boat operators are badly behaved around dolphins. I personally witnessed two companies behaving impeccably near dolphins, obeying the regulations and complaining and shouting out at operators that weren't. But they are in the minority.

The situation in Bocas was discussed at the IWC scientific committee (personally having photos of boats in clear violation of regulations helped quell the protest from government officials that there was no problem and the rules were always obeyed) and their concern was expressed in the official report, which also stated that  the Panamanian Government should do something about the situation. Certain IWC commissioners visited government high ups to protest the situation too. The fact that Panama is the host of the IWC, is an indicator that they want to be seen as a world nation that has an active interest in the management of whales and dolphins, and it's certainly embarrassing for them not to have their house in order on that score. A week after I left Panama now, I hear that there is positive movement on the government front, there have been some meetings with boat operators and a new research project to monitor the sustainability of dolphin-watching in the area, and to study the impact of the activity on the dolphins, has been initiated (incorporating colleagues and even some of my graduate students).  So at least something positive has come out of this year's Whaling Commission meeting, which makes a pleasant change.

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