Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 7617
Title: Meta-analyses of whalewatching impact studies: comparisons of cetacean responses to disturbance
Author: V. Senigaglia, F. Christiansen, L. Bejder, D. Gendron, D. Lundquist, D. P. Noren, A. Schaffar, J.C. Smith, R. Williams, E. Martinez, K. Stockin, D. Lusseau
Publication Year: 2016
Journal: Marine Ecology Progress Series
Keywords: Whale Watching,cetaceans,behavior,disturbance,impacts assessment

Whalewatching activities can induce behavioral changes that may negatively affect cetacean populations. However, these changes may vary depending on species, population and environmental features. It is important to determine inter-specific variation in cetacean responses to distress to identify the best metrics to evaluate consequences of anthropogenic disturbance. We used meta-analyses to assess the consistency of cetacean responses to whalewatching vessels across a pool of suitable studies covering a variety of species and sites. We analyzed several metrics to capture cetacean heterogeneous responses and to explore their reliability across species. We found disruptions of activity budget and of path directionality as the most consistent responses towards whalewatching vessels.  In a similar manner across species, animals were more likely to travel and less likely to rest and forage in the presence of vessels. Cetaceans also showed a tendency to increase path sinuosity (deviation index) and decrease path linearity (directness index) during boat interactions. We also explored the influence of socio-ecological factors on behavioral response but found no consistent results among studies. Further population specific studies should address the potential long-term consequences of these behavioral responses to inform management of the whalewatching industry.

Theme: Recovery and rebuilding of marine and coastal species
Foci: Describe the relationships between human activities and species recovery, rebuilding and sustainability.