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An increasing number of people are taking whale watching boat trips and flights.   Whale watching (a term that includes all cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises) and the tourism it brings, present an economic opportunity for many communities around the world.  Whilst the circumstances of these communities are often very diverse, the goal of sustainable whale watching, conducted in harmony with healthy cetacean populations in a healthy environment, is a shared one.

The IWC is working with a range of other inter-governmental organisations including the Convention for Migratory Species (CMS), and Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), as well as its member governments, scientists, the whale watching industry and non-governmental organisations, to understand and manage the potential impacts of whale watching on individual whales and whale populations.

  • Click here to access the Whale Watching Handbook: a comprehensive, online resource for regulators, industry and the public

Strategic Plans and Work Plans 

In recognition of the rapid expansion of the industry and its growing economic importance, the IWC developed a Strategic Plan for Whale Watching in 2011.   This five year plan set out a series of actions to support responsible and sustainable whale watching, including research and data collection, information sharing and capacity building.  Collaboration was key to the strategy which brought together governments, scientists, non-governmental organisations and the whale watching industry.  At its biennial meeting in 2016, the Commission agreed that a revised and updated plan should be developed.  The Whale Watching Strategic Plan 2018-24 was presented and endorsed at the following Commission meeting in 2018.  A new two-year IWC Work Plan for Whale Watching was also endorsed in 2022.

  • Click here to read the Whale Watching Strategic Plan, 2018-24.
  • Click here to read the original Whale Watching Strategic Plan, 2011-16.

Whale Watching Handbook

Another important and collaborative whale watching initiative is the Whale Watching Handbook.  This web-based and evolving tool provides comprehensive information, tailored to advise and support three distinct audiences: whale watching policy makers and regulators, industry, and the general public.

  • Click here to read more about the Whale Watching Handbook.

Scientific Research

All the advice provided to policy makers and regulators, industry and the public, is based on the best available scientific information.  The IWC Scientific Committee first recognised the potential impact of whale watching in 1975 and has been studying the effects of repeated whale watching on individual whales, their populations and their habitats.

This complex task requires examining both short and long-term impacts. Factors to be considered include changes in behaviour and habitat use that may potentially affect feeding, reproductive success and even mortality rates. Particular attention has been paid to critically endangered and data deficient populations.  This research led the IWC to develop principles and guidelines for whale watching.  These were introduced in 1996 and helped guide the development of whale watching regulations around the world.  The measures advised included limits on vessel numbers, speeds, approach distances and time spent with whales. 

IWC Principles for Whale Watching

The IWC General Principles for Whale Watching were first developed in 1996 and most recently updated in 2022.  This short document incorporates advice from leading scientists, conservationists and policy makers and summarises the recommended steps to avoid adverse impacts on whales from whale watching operations. 

Read the IWC General Principles for Whale Watching.