With the worldwide increase in wildlife viewing tours it is more important than ever to ensure that wildlife viewing is done responsibly, with little to no impact on the wildlife being viewed. Joining a guided kayak tour can be a low impact and responsible way to view whales and other wildlife.
With some knowledge and respect for wildlife, the slow speed, quiet nature, and ability to access shallow water close to shore make kayaks ideal crafts for viewing wildlife. However, these same characteristics can also cause kayakers to more easily disturb wildlife if not done properly.
The main goal when viewing any wildlife should be to ensure that our actions do not cause the animal to change their normal behaviour. For example, from a silent kayak it is often easy to surprise sea lions hauled out on rock basking in the sun or to scare an eagle away from its hard-fought salmon dinner. In the case of the sea lions not only was their rest disturbed but they now need to expend more energy to warm up again. Furthermore, in the rush to get into the water animals that way up to 1000 kilograms often get injured in the stampede. In the case of the eagle, it often takes numerous attempts for an eagle to catch a fish. By scaring it from its catch it becomes vulnerable to losing it to be scavenged by other animals. The eagle would then need to spend even more time to catch a replacement, possibly causing chicks in the nest to go hungry as well
On a guided kayak trip with a reputable company the guides have knowledge of where and when animals are likely to be seen and the best way to approach so as not to startle animals like the sea lions mentioned above. Experienced guides can also interpret animal behaviour not only to provide their guests with wildlife viewing opportunities but to also know when to end or change their own viewing behaviour in the best interest of the wildlife being viewed.
Human nature often causes people to try and get as close to wildlife as possible to get the “ideal” photo or to get an up-close-and-personal look. Good companies and guides will not only set guidelines with their guests on what is and is not acceptable viewing behaviour but also educate their guests on why closer is not always better.
A few of the guidelines we use at Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures are:
- View or photograph from a distance that respects the needs of wildlife, using proper equipment such as binoculars and telephoto lenses.
- Be patient, remembering that we are guests in wildlife habitat.
- Avoid making loud noises or actions that might startle or stress wildlife. Scaring wildlife away from its food or resting place causes the animal to expend more energy than what is necessary.
- Avoid approaching animals that are breeding, nesting, brooding or raising young, because parents and young are especially vulnerable at these times.
- Never feed wildlife, recognizing that feeding usually leads to problems such as unnatural food dependency, habituation to humans, disease or even death.
- Adhere to Marine Mammal Regulations and guidelines for respectful, legal and safe marine mammal viewing which include distance limits of 200 metres for orcas and 100 metres for humpback whales and other cetaceans.
- To inform our guests that when whales occasionally and unexpectedly surface closer than the viewing distance limits to avoid sharing images and video of these encounters via social media as not to create the impression that these encounters are to be sought after or to be expected.
When viewing whales from a kayak people often assume that because kayaks have no loud engine or propeller that they have little or no impact on whales but research has shown that getting in the path of orcas in a kayak can change their travel patterns just as much as a larger vessel, often disturbing their feeding or resting patterns. On a kayak tour with a reputable company, the guides will not intentionally place the group in the path of whales and if on shore when whales are approaching they will remain on shore if launching the kayaks will put them in their path. At Kingfisher, we often have great whale sightings right from shore as well as from our kayaks.
When done responsibly, kayaking can be one of the least obtrusive ways to view wildlife. Combine this with knowledgeable guides who impart a greater understanding of the local wildlife and ecosystem, like those at Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures, a tour to view wildlife becomes a much greater educational experience. An experience that often encourages visitors to make decisions and modify their daily behaviors to help protect the wildlife and environment they encountered from a kayak.
For another post of this subject visit The Marine Detective website for Whale Watching – Not “Up-Close-and-Personal!” How to make a good choice?