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New Zealand "Model Country" For Whale Watching

The Minister of Conservation, Hon Sandra Lee, says New Zealand has been termed "a model country" in an International Fund for Animal Welfare report, for the careful management of its whale watching activities.

The report's writer Erich Hoyt carried out worldwide research into the whale watching industry. The study included looking at tourism, socioeconomic benefits, and environmental effects for each community involved in what has become a global industry, with 87 countries together earning NZ$2 billion each year.

Mr Hoyt said in the report that research funding recovered from operators and the requirement that operators have an education programme contributed to his assessment of New Zealand as a model country for whale watching. The report suggested that improvements could be made by the presence of trained naturalists on every boat.

The Department of Conservation is responsible for managing and regulating the industry in New Zealand waters, and ensuring marine mammals such as whales and dolphins are adequately protected. Conservation Minister Sandra Lee said that up to last year DOC had granted 82 marine mammal tourism permits around New Zealand, with a number still under application.

“In recent years we’ve seen a tremendous swell in the whale and dolphin eco-tourism industry. It has transformed whole communities, in particular Kaikoura, which 15 years ago had little tourism to speak of, but is now a flagship enterprise and a popular destination for overseas travellers,” she said.

“The big benefit in Kaikoura has been a change from fishing as a major income earner to one that’s now based on an environmentally sustainable, non-extractive use. It has not only broadened the economic base of the entire community, but in particular has been an enormous benefit to the local iwi who run the business.”

The report said that in 1998 at least 230,000 people went whale watching in New Zealand. It said a large proportion were overseas visitors, and they brought a significant amount of money into New Zealand.

Over 30 communities in New Zealand now have some involvement in whale or dolphin watching.

Activities include whale, dolphin or seal watching, from boats, kayaks, or the air, as well as swimming with dolphins, for which 21 permits have been issued. Many permits were issued for small-scale opportunistic viewing by water taxis or charter boats.

“The four biggest areas for marine mammal tourism in New Zealand are Kaikoura, Akaroa (Banks Peninsula), the Bay of Islands and the Bay of Plenty. Ten of DOC’s 13 conservancies across the country are involved in one way or another with marine mammal tourism,”

“In New Zealand, we have a strict permit system for marine mammal activities, which has helped control the number of boats on the water and guide how people must behave around whales, dolphins and seals to protect the animals. Most people are very respectful,” Ms Lee said.

The IFAW report said the future was positive for the industry in New Zealand. With whale and dolphin watching flourishing, and providing a major drawcard to international tourists, there remained outstanding potential to increase the socio-economic benefits.


For a copy of the 200-page report, contact:
Nicola Patrick, DOC Public Awareness Manager, 04 471 3131

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