Humpback Whales and Community Tales: Whale Watching in Samaná

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Ryan Hamilton (ISER Caribe) posted this intriguing article about humpback whales, the whale watching industry, tourism, conservation projects, and social practices related to the whale “season” (such as the Humpback Whale Festival). See excerpts here and read the full article through the link provided below:

Humpback whales journey every year from the cold waters of the north Atlantic to the Caribbean. They return to the waters of their birth in search of some respite, many of them to the Bay of Samaná in the Dominican Republic. [. . .] During the months of January to March the whales are the biggest attraction in the bay of Samaná. Touted as an economic resource for the community, the whales attract thousands of tourists from all over the world. [. . .]

The whales are now at the center of discussions of local management of tourism. Trying to create a niche and distinguish itself from other destinations within the DR and the Caribbean. Samaná has embraced the visits of the humpback whales. Through their protection and management and increased income produced through visitors to the region, a relationship has been forged with the community. This relationship has been used to breathe new life into the local economy of Samaná through the development of the whale watching industry.

The whale watching industry has the economic potential to provide incentive for the community to come together to develop the local space, but as presently managed by the state. The effects of local development are limited to certain segments of Samaná society and to foreign capital. Dominican nationals own the majority of the tour boats, but this money rarely trickles down to the workers and others involved in the industry. As a result of the high cost of a whale watching trip, the majority of the local population has never had the opportunity to see the whales up close. In addition, the increased vessels in the bay including cruise ships and the continuous harassment by whale watching boats have affected whale behavior within the Samaná Bay and may impact the number of whales visiting the bay.

The growth of the whale watching industry in Samaná has been subsidized and promoted by the Dominican state. [. . .]

In attempts to change the relation of the whale watching industry and the tourist activities with the community, the Municipal government alongside the Ministry of the Environment have developed a brand for Samaná linked to the arrival of the whales. With the support of the local tour operators and tourism business owners, the Whale Museum, CEBSE and other conservation organizations they organized the Humpback Whale Festival to inaugurate the annual whale season. The 4th iteration of this festival will happen from January 15th until the 23rd, 2015.

For full article, see http://www.isercaribe.org/2014/12/14/humpback-whales-and-community-tales/

[Many thanks to Sophie Maríñez for bringing this item to our attention.]

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