As whale watching season approaches, volunteers get training in assisting cetaceans in trouble

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Whale watching season on the Pacific coast is set to start in just over three weeks, and thanks to extensive training, all involved in the activity in Oaxaca are mindful of the ned for conservation and protection of the migrant cetaceans.

Once the season starts on December 15, a team of volunteers that includes maritime tourism service providers, fishermen and municipal, state and federal authorities springs into action, prepared to provide assistance to whales tangled in fishing nets. These actions are coordinated by the Huatulco National Park.

In order to be fully prepared and trained, the Huatulco office of Raben, the Entangled Whale Care Network, will provide a theoretical and hands-on workshop to keep all volunteers up-to-date on the best techniques to assist whales.

The workshop is scheduled to take place Wednesday at the Marina Resort Hotel in Huatulco, and will train the more than 20 members of Raben Huatulco to save the lives of  any whales that might need help, without putting their own lives at risk.

The subjects to be approached during the instruction session will delve into the type of fishing nets the whales might interact with and could cause entanglements, as well as where, when and how whales become entangled. Volunteers will also learn how to work with the local fishing community in order to help prevent these incidents.

Before starting the hands-on training, the participants will reaffirm their action and logistics protocol, from the moment a potential entanglement incident alert is received. First responders must verify and assess the situation and, if needed, start tracking the animal and keep it visible.

Once a net is removed, volunteers must monitor, document and keep track of the whale’s destination.

Whales are protected by law in Mexico. All whale watching activities can be carried out only after receiving a permit issued by the federal Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, Semarnat. Those who do not have official authorization must keep their boat at a minimum distance of 240 meters from the whales.

In Oaxaca, whales can be sighted from Dec. 15 to March 21 in the Puerto Escondido and Huatulco areas. In the Puerto Ángel–Mazunte area, the season runs from Dec. 15 to March 31.

There are three basic rules for whale watching:

  • Cause the least possible impact on the whales.
  • Be patient.
  • Go whale watching only with boats or companies that are authorized by Semarnat.

There are also recommendations for tourist service providers and the general public:

  • The minimum distance at which whales can be observed is 60 meters for boats with a whale watching permit.
  • Only a maximum of four boats can remain around the same whale or group of whales.
  • In the presence of whales, the maximum speed allowed for navigation within the observation areas must be less than 5 knots or 9 kph, decreasing to 2 knots or 4 kph when entering the observation zone. Boats must move at a slower speed than the slowest whale in the group at all times. In all cases, sudden acceleration and deceleration are to be avoided.
  • Avoid sudden changes in speed and direction, as this scares the whales and could cause an accident.
  • If the whales avoid the boat, change direction. If they change their breathing rate or change their activity, the boat should not get closer and should instead move away slowly.
  • The correct way to approach a whale is from the back and to the side, never from the front or around them, as this can be threatening to them.
  • Mothers with calves are extremely sensitive, so it is important to approach them carefully.
  • It is prohibited to cause the dispersion of a group of whales or to interrupt their activity.
  • It is important not to throw or dump any type of waste, especially plastic, cigarette butts, garbage or any synthetic waste that could cause problems for animals if ingested.
  • No sport or commercial fishing may be carried out near the whales.
  • It is not allowed to swim, snorkel, dive or do kayaking, parasailing or jet ski activities in the areas where the whales are found. It can be dangerous and alter the natural behavior of the animals.
  • To avoid accidents, it is forbidden to tow dinghies or any type of object, nor to drag ropes, lines, nets, hooks or any other similar attachment during whale watching.
  • For the safety of boat crews, everyone must wear life jackets.

With 15 teams and more than 180 people trained in the Mexican Pacific, Raben has been declared ready for the 2022-2023 whale watching season.

With reports from Panorama del Pacífico


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