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Proof of the Problem - Cetacean Conservation 

If all the statistics, pictures and videos we read online aren’t proof enough of the need to conserve species, witnessing stuff first hand sure does go a long toward making it hit home.

Excessive tourist interactions and boat collisions are a worldwide theme of whale and dolphin conservation and on last week’s coastal survey we saw such a situation develop.

Well, very nearly.

Right so we were on top of the mountain, overlooking the ocean and taking down locations, numbers and behaviour of all the cetaceans we saw when, boom, we saw it.

You know those spouts of water and vapour that a whale sends up when they surface to breath, well we saw one of those and it was massive. It shot almost as high as two of the yacht’s masts that were circling it.

Amazed at what we could now see, the group began a debate over what type of whale it was. Too big for a dolphin, too small for a fin whale, so maybe a Bryde’s Whale (pronounced Brooder’s, just so ya’ know)?

Recently some of our volunteers had seen a mother and a calf Bryde’s Whale swimming around while out on the boats so these two we saw looked to be the very same ones. They were amazing to see. Slow in swimming, under water for minutes at a time and massive when they surfaced. Even at the distance of viewing them from a coastal mountain you could see how big they were. The yachts and whale watching boats in pursuit seemed dwarfed.

Slowly that started to become noticeable. There were A LOT of boats.

At least two tourist whale watching boats, two or three yachts and a few smaller fishing boats were following them around looking for their photo op, not to mention the jet skiers in the nearby area generally being a nuisance.

As a group our concern for the whales began to mount as they would dive and then surface and the pursuit would follow them again, getting closer and closer. The whale watching boats tried to keep a respectful distance as they’re legally meant to, but the others, not a chance. The longer and longer dives underwater gave some indication that the pair were trying to get away from the crowd but with the calf being small, it couldn’t stay submerged and swim fast for long before tiring. A collision or incident looked like a certainty.

Two smaller ribs then joined the scramble and seemed to dissipate the throng, which relieved a lot of our fears…for a few minutes at least.

The most dramatic bit was yet to come.

These smaller ribs were clearly authorities or researchers of some sort given the difference of their boats from everything else we’d seen and the unique flags they were flying. They had divers in and out of the water too so could have even been cameramen? Who knows, what was obvious though was that they kept a respectful difference, didn’t get in the way and didn’t affect their behaviour to the degree of the rest of them.

Just when we thought our whale friends were in the clear they slowed down and started to dawdle, right in the path of the incoming ferry. To put that into some perspective the Bryde’s Whale was about the same length as some of the yachts whereas the ferry is about 10 times the length.

So it kept coming and they kept dawdling in its way. It went on and went on and we all thought “they’ll move soon”. But they didn’t.

The research boats were now zooming around getting guys out of the water and trying to tempt the whales into moving out of the ferry’s way.  But it kept on coming. Now we had a situation on our hands. Would we actually witness a collision between a ferry and a mother and calf Bryde’s Whale?

Well, they dived again about 100 metres from the ferry and disappeared. A few tense moments followed before both we and the whales breathed again. The ferry passed, the whales resurfaced and all was OK.

So in the space of 25 minutes we saw two things that epitomise the struggles that whales and dolphins are having these days. Close contact between whales and tourist boats causes a huge amount of distress and change in their behaviour and is something that needs to be monitored. Lots is being done in Tenerife, but this isn't the only place it’s a problem. And close contact between whales and ferries, well, there’s only going to be one winner in that fight.

Scary as it is to see, it was important to see it unfolding in front of us up on the mountain. Gives some cause and validation for what we’re trying to achieve out here.

By Guy Bezant - Project Coordinator

Find out more about our Tenerife Whale and Dolphijn Conservation Project

Frontier runs conservationdevelopmentteaching and adventure travel projects in over 70 countries worldwide - so join us and explore the world!

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