Dolphins in Southeast Asia at risk amid growing tourism

An Irrawaddy dolphin entertains visitors on a boat. Source: Shutterstock

WHILE more tourists and tour operators and moving away from Asia’s dark industry of animal tourism, Southeast Asia’s dolphin-watching market is becoming increasingly saturated.

Some of the areas that thrive on dolphin-watching tourism is Mekong and Ayeyarwaddy for Irrawaddy dolphins, Hong Kong for white dolphins, and Bali or Bohol for spinner dolphins.

An international study revealed while dolphin and whale tourism in Southeast Asia can be great for communities, it can also prove a blow to the environment.

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Traffic from the constant stream of commercial boats carrying visitors can stress dolphins, and some tourists chase and taunt the animals when near them.

“At this point, the industry ceases to be profitable for individual boatmen who enter it – there are too many players,” James Cook University researcher Putu Liza Mustika said in a statement.

When three or more tour boats are cruising on a lake, the dolphins in the area are shown to spend less time resting, increasing their stress levels.

“We know having too many boats around is not good for dolphins. They can’t rest and their feeding is disrupted. It can disturb the mother-and-calf bond, especially because they communicate by sound and whistling.

“With the sound of the boat engine being so loud, the mother cannot hear the calf and there is a rupture in their bond,” Mustika said.

The research showed regulations were non-existent in Chilika Lagoon in India as well as Lovina Beach in Bali, allowing an unlimited number of boats to circle the dolphins.

Scientists urge dolphin-watching tourism must be regulated to ensure the health and sustainability of the animals.

In 2008, there were 857 dolphin-watching operators in Asia and it is estimated this number could have doubled at present.