Banderas Bay Initiative
By Maria Zamora
It is hard not to be awed by the graceful leap of a forty-ton humpback whale lifting its body almost entirely out of the water. Between late November and March hundreds of whales visit our bay. Although we are lucky enough that their spouts, flukes and acrobatic jumps can be seen from shore, I find that there is nothing quite like going whale watching out into the sea.
However as whale watching becomes an important part of our local culture and economy it becomes increasingly important that we make sure we take advantage of this opportunity in a responsible manner. It is important for us as consumers to be informed and demand that tour operators follow rules and regulations regarding whale watching. These are there to keep us and the whales safe after all so we can continue to enjoy each other’s company for years to come.
First of all it is important to know that SEMARNAT, the secretary for environment and natural resources regulates whale watching practices through the NOM-131-SEMARNAT. Make sure the vessel you chose proudly waves the distinctive permit flag. This has several advantages. Authorized vessels can get closer to the whales, which will result in a better experience for you (60 vs 240 meters for non-permitted vessels). However, each vessel should only remain with a group or individual whale for 30 minutes at this closer distance. This ensures that a crowd doesn’t build up around any one group which decreases safety and is likely to scare off the whales.
Having their permit also ensures they are familiar with the regulations and best whale watching practices, ECOBAC, a local non-profit gave a mandatory workshop at the permit delivery ceremony which reviews the regulations as well as gives tour operators more and better information about whales, whale-watching, monitoring and other topics. This ensures they give visitors an even better experience and encourages them to keep coming back to our bay.
The regulations also ensure that our whale visitors are comfortable and safe during their visit. Humpbacks visit the waters of Banderas Bay to birth their young and mate (that’s part of why we get showy displays). The regulations make sure boats don’t get in their way (putting both whale and humans at risk), nor alter their behavior so they can carry out their activities naturally.
ECOBAC also works throughout the year to get tour-operators and tourists to understand the importance of following this norm. They patrol during the whale-watching season and remind vessel captains of the regulations as well as give public recognition to those who consistently follow best practices. This year they are also putting together a festival for conservation called BALLENARTE with the hopes of attracting ecotourism, promoting awareness about whales and how we interact with them and to secure funds to give continuity to their activities. Find out more about ECOBAC at whalephoto.org, contribute to BALLENARTE with a donation or help them name their mascot on Facebook/ 1er Festival por la Conservación Ballenarte.