Gabon is a fantastic location for whale tourism, as during the breeding season (July to September), humpback whales put on spectacular shows close to the coast. As part of its sustainable development goals, Gabon envisages increasing and diversifying eco-tourism. WCS supports the Government of Gabon policy for whale tourism by developing guidelines to improve the industry’s practices and legal requirements.
Whale watching as a tourist activity is currently less prominent in Gabon compared with leatherback turtle nesting season, or forest hiking. Although still a small industry, with operators in the cities of Libreville and Port Gentil and some couple of coastal villages, the previous lack of any regulation or best-practices has been a problem for whales and tourists alike. As the whales are in their reproductive period the males display and battle for female attention. A boat poorly piloted amongst this intensive activity can both disrupt the whales’ behaviour, cause problems for whale calves when they are most vulnerable and put the boat and its passengers at risk.
Currently some operators offer a professional whale watching experience that follows basic safety rules, but others have not yet adopted best practice. WCS is working with operators to develop a responsible and high quality activity. We have produced two technical whale-watching guides that address the priorities that must be addressed by whale-tourism operators to ensure the safety and well-being of whales and passengers. These have been endorsed by ANPN, the Gabon National Parks Agency. One guide provides recommendations on the responsible observation of cetaceans, and the other on boating equipment and safety at sea. A poster produced by ANPN and WCS summarizes the major points for whale tourism best-practice, aimed both at operators and tourists.
WCS experts have provided recommendations on the creation of legal code to regulate the cetacean tourism industry in Gabon. We continue to work with tourism operators and to encourage the development of the industry that does not pose a threat to the cetaceans themselves.