The Whale Watching Tour Suspension Stands for Now

Whale watching can occur from shore without placing the whales in unnecessary harmWhale watching can occur from shore without placing the whales in unnecessary harm
Photo: Adventure Turismo
On July 2, 2013, Brazil’s Federal Regional Court of the Fourth Region ruled to keep a suspension on whale watching tours in the Southern Right Whale Environment Protection Area (APA) in its place. The ruling was made after finding that the preservation of the endangered whale species was the primary purpose behind the area's protected status.

In May 2012, an injunction suspending whale watching activities was granted by Laguna's Federal Justice system after Sea Shepherd Brazil filed a civil action lawsuit against Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio). In this lawsuit, Sea Shepherd Brazil successfully argued that even though the APA was established 13 years ago, there were no studies on the environmental impact of whale watching tours, and therefore, ICMBio should cease their activities until a proper assessment had been carried out.

Federal judge Fernando Quadros da Silva, acknowledged that while whale watching tours provided an income source for locals and encouraged environmental education, photographic evidence collected by Sea Shepherd Brazil suggested that human interaction could compromise the ability for cetaceans to reproduce. Therefore, the priority was to preserve Southern Right Whale populations by ensuring environmental licensing regulations were properly adhered to.

The Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) lists Southern Right Whales in their Red Book of Endangered Species. Many of the countries with waters that these whales frequent have been prompted to ban boats from making close range observations of the animals. These bans are essential as Southern Right Whales tends to seek sheltered coves for their nurseries and prefer a habitat often within 20 meters of shore. Unfortunately, this makes them far more vulnerable to potential harm from human interactions.

Sea Shepherd Brazil's attorney Renata Fortes was confident that the court would rule in favor of the whales when ICMBio was forced to admit that there were no studies into the potentially harmful activities taking place in the APA, even though regulations exist to protect the area's cetacean inhabitants. She argued that before being seen as financial resources, whales must be considered living beings, and assessments should not be conducted as a result of Sea Shepherd Brazil's request, but because they are a requirement of the law. The assessments would also help determine who would best oversee Southern Right Whale protection regulations.

Sea Shepherd Brazil Legal Coordinator Luiz Andre Albuquerque was also pleased that the judiciary was paying attention to conservation issues, and believes that the court's decision reaffirmed an increasing desire for the country to take care of the environment. Albuquerque went on to stress that economic losses should never be allowed to overshadow the preservation of endangered species. This is especially the case when the option of land-based Southern Right Whale watching tours exist around the region and visual recognition monitoring can be carried out via aerial and terrestrial means.

A whale breaching in the Southern Right Whale Environment Protection AreaA whale breaching in the Southern Right Whale Environment Protection Area
Photo: Enrique Litman

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