• CONSERVATION BENEFITS OF WHALE WATCHING IN JUNEAU, ALASKA

      Schuler, Alicia, R.; Pearson, Heidi C. (Cognizant, LLC, 2020-01-03)
      An increasing number of visitors to Juneau, AK, alongside a predictable population of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), has supported the substantial growth of its whale-watching indus- try. The industry provides benefits to the community through economic gains, while the experi- ence can foster environmental awareness and support for protection of whales and the environment. However, the sustainability of the industry could be jeopardized if increasing whale-watching vessel pressure affects the health of its resource, the whales. This study investigates whether participation in whale-watching tours in Juneau, AK can support conservation of whales and the environment. Participant knowledge, attitudes, intentions, and behaviors were obtained from 2,331 respondents in surveys before, after, and 6 months after a whale-watching tour during the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Following a whale watch, the percentage of participants that indicated whale watching as a knowl- edge source increased (p = 0.022), awareness of guidelines and regulations doubled (p < 0.001), and strong support for regulations increased (p = 0.016). Six months later, these responses remained significantly higher than before the whale watch. Despite knowledge of distance threshold increasing after a whale watch (p = 0.003) and 6 months after (p = 0.021), getting close to whales remained an important factor in a participant’s whale watch. Participants had a higher likelihood of strongly sup- porting guidelines and regulations if they indicated that boats can have a negative impact on whales or were aware of guidelines and regulations. Lastly, participants that acknowledged negative effects on whales from boats had higher overall proenvironmental attitudes. This study indicates that incor- porating messages that facilitate participant awareness of guidelines/regulations and the purpose of those measures can support conservation and protection of local whale populations through manag- ing participant expectations and ultimately encouraging operator compliance.
    • Humpback Whale Movements and Behavior in Response to Whale-Watching Vessels in Juneau, AK

      Schuler, Alicia, R.; Piwetz, Sarah; Clemente, Jacopo Di; Steckler, David; Mueter, Franz; Pearson, Heidi C. (2019-11-20)
      The whale-watching industry in Juneau, Alaska relies primarily on the presence of North Pacific humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). To meet demands from the rapidly growing tourism industry, the number of whale-watching vessels in this region has tripled over the last 18 years. As a result, increased vessel presence could have negative effects on humpback whales, ranging from short-term behavioral disturbance to long-term impacts. The current humpback whale viewing regulations are outdated and may not be as effective as they were 18 years ago, when both the whale-watching industry and humpback whale population were smaller. The present study assessed how humpback whale movement and behavioral patterns were affected by (1) vessel presence and number of vessels present, and (2) time spent in the presence of vessels. The study also determined how humpback whale behavioral state transitions were affected by vessel presence. A total of 201 humpback whale focal follows were conducted during summer 2016 and 2017. Based on linear mixed effects models, whales in the presence (vs. absence) of vessels exhibited 38.9% higher deviation in linear movement (p = 0.001), 6.2% increase in swimming speed (p = 0.047) and a 6.7% decrease in inter-breath intervals (IBI) (p = 0.025). For each additional vessel present, deviation increased by 6.2% (p = 0.022) and IBI decreased by 3.4% (p = 0.001). As time spent in the presence of vessels increased, respiration rate increased (p = 0.011). Feeding and traveling humpback whales were likely to maintain their behavioral state regardless of vessel presence, while surface active humpback whales were likely to transition to traveling in the presence of vessels. These short-term changes in movement and behavior in response to whale-watching vessels could lead to cumulative, long-term consequences, negatively impacting the health and predictability of the resource on which the industry relies. Current formal vessel approach regulations and voluntary guidelines should be revisited to reduce vessel pressure and mitigate potential negative effects of this growing whale-watching industry.