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World Cetacean Alliance

United Kingdom

World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) is the world’s largest network of experts on whale and dolphin watching. Founded in 2013 on World Oceans Day, the WCA brings together a global mix of commercial tour operators (tourist whale and dolphin spotting boats), NGOs, scientists and educators to improve the lives of cetaceans through the delivery of community focused training and education programmes.

WCA developed the first global certification for whale and dolphin watching in 2019. The WCA’s Responsible Whale Watching Certification is given to operators who can prove that their guides and crew have the understanding required to operate with a high standard of local wildlife care, sustainability and customer experience.

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WORLD CETACEAN ALLIANCE STORY

With 13 million tourists annually choosing to spend their holidays whale watching, the WCA saw these figures as a clear opportunity to reach and influence a significant number of people. 

‘Cetaceans are undoubtedly the most popular group of marine animals on earth which is why so many holidaymakers are keen to see them. We see whale watching as a first step in engaging huge numbers of people and influencing them to take responsibility for protecting the seas.’

The WCA’s approach is about bringing people together to overcome individual differences. Through defining and meeting common goals, the WCA is balancing marine conservation activity with the commercial needs of communities dependant on making their livelihoods from the fishing and tourist industries. When Dylan, WCA CEO, contacted sankalpa in February 2020, his approach triggered something in us. Although we don’t encourage unsolicited funding requests, Dylan had our attention as we were already interested in supporting someone who really understands the seas. 

‘Our current focus is on countries including Columbia, Madagascar and Réunion. We’re working with communities where fishers have converted to whale watching, for part or all of the year, because fish stocks have declined and they can’t make a living from fishing alone. The conversion to whale watching allows communities to stay on the water and for fish stocks to recover.’

To minimise adverse impacts of whale watching on cetaceans, education is essential. Working in collaboration with commercial partners and scientists, the WCA has developed a training programme for whale spotting communities. 

‘There is a lot of pressure on marine ecosystems due to holiday makers and many scientists are concerned about the impacts of whale watching on the animals directly. As traditional fishing communities transition into whale watching destinations, it’s essential to encourage sustainability across both fishing and whale watching activities.’

Although plastic pollution is widely reported for its hazards to marine life, fishing nets are the biggest threat to large marine mammals. Key reports such as the 2012 paper from Conservation Biology found that entanglement was the primary cause of death of whales between 1970-2009, and ICES Journal of Marine Science reported in 2019 that North Atlantic right whales have been in decline since 2011, largely due to vessel collisions and entanglement in fishing gear.

‘Whale watching puts traditional fishing communities in touch with NGOs, customers and government agencies — people with a focus on environmental awareness and sustainability. We’re interested in how this transition to whale watching potentially influences community fishing practices and how fishers may think more carefully about their environmental impact.’

After developing the Responsible Whale Watching Certification and receiving excellent take up in countries such as Mexico and South Africa, the WCA had been struggling to roll out the programme in countries where boat operators don’t tend to have the funds required for training.

‘We have a number of NGO partners across the world who are desperate to use our certification programme, however for many countries — the associated costs of our programme are inhibitive.’

As a way to reduce costs but achieve maximum impact, the WCA concluded that providing certification training would only be possible (in certain countries) if whale watching cooperatives were developed, in partnership with local NGOs.

‘In many countries fishers are very used to, and comfortable with, the cooperative concept. Group working means we can dramatically reduce our costs by working through local NGOs, while ensuring that they too benefit financially from the work involved.’

To administer the setup of these cooperatives, sankalpa has funded a full time staff member for 12 months. The responsible whale watching certification and fisheries cooperatives manager is currently working alongside NGOs and fishing/ whale watching communities largely based throughout East Africa and South America to cocreate and roll out the programme.

‘As an organisation we were trying and failing to grow. All our funding was coming from project related fees and so we were unable to stand on our own two feet and we kept deviating from our mission. Opportunities for charities in the early years just don’t exist and so we were becoming exhausted by constantly trying to fight fires as opposed to focusing on growth. Then we found sankalpa — they work quickly and their processes are simple, a joy!’
Dylan Walker, World Cetacean Alliance CEO

We are all connected to nature. But some of us are more connected than others, and our shift to an urban culture locked away from the places that provide us with food, water, air and our health is enabling us to do terrible things to the planet in blissful ignorance. Our oceans, the so-called blue planet, is the ultimate challenge when it comes to reconnecting people with the wild.

DYLAN WALKER, WORLD CETACEAN ALLIANCE CEO
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