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Research | Menai Bay Dolphins

Menai Bay Dolphin Tourism project

The Institute of Marine Science (IMS) in Zanzibar is looking into the sustainability of the dolphin watch tourism in Menai Bay. They are working together with the Menai Bay Conservation Area which involves the local village people. IMS believes that it would be very useful to show the boat operators, by means of educational movies, the impact they may have on the behaviour of the dolphins. Hopefully, they will then be more inclined to stick to the guidelines. But to make a film you need the footage. That's where JIOQ came in. Our job in Menai Bay was to get footage of the dolphins and tourism to provide IMS with the material to make training movies.

We spent more than 2 weeks observing and collecting the footage. At the end of this period JIOQ gave a presentation of our findings and we presented them with a short movie and the raw footage for their own use.

Here's a dolphin image from the movie we made which we did have available for download from this site but had to remove to save space. If you'd like the movie, email us!

Presentation on the JIOQ's Menai Bay Dolphin Project

Purpose of this project
• To obtain documentary video & still images of Menai Bay dolphins & tourist interaction
• Surface & underwater video & stills of ‘undisturbed’ pods
• Video of tourism encounters
• Provide documentation video & a short film to IMS for use in training & educational media
• Offer independent observations & ideas to promote research & improve dolphin tourism for the operators, clients & dolphins

Observation Programme
• Orientation trip with Maria to see how tourism is conducted
• Join tour boats to video tourist interaction
• Interview returning tourists for their perspectives
• Join Anna & Stina on ‘Mkizi’ to video undisturbed pods
• Conduct independent trips with Jocara to video pods
• Deploy hydrophone to detect pods

What worked, didn’t work
What worked:
• Excellent co-operation with local operators (to join & video boat operations), Cabs restaurant (to join tourist groups & interview them) & Stockholm University researchers (to join Mkizi & other research trips) facilitated by Omar’s introductions
• Video & still capturing of surface action
• Getting access to tourists for interviews to gain their perspective
• Jocara’s ‘Dolphin Trapeze’

What didn’t work (so well):
• Difficulty in regularly finding dolphins - only visual search possible, difficult in choppy seas
• Underwater imaging; ‘Mkizi’ is a small research boat with limited space & shade & not set up for underwater camera work
• Finding dolphins with Jocara
• Obtaining a wide & frank range of responses from tourist interviews

First Impressions
• Pods sometimes show clear avoidance & harassment responses to tourism
Short breathing cycles
• Deeply-arched dives
• Tight pod formation
• Abrupt changes in pod travel direction
• Tail slapping
• Vocal ‘coughs’
• Avoidance/disappearance of individuals/previously-stable pod

Harassment most noticeable when:
There are many tourist boats
• Boats ‘encircle’ a pod
• Surface swimmers approach from all sides
• Swimmers splash heavily into water &/or swim noisily towards dolphins
• Boats travel quickly/close-by or change speed/direction abruptly

• Clients rarely have more than a very shallow knowledge of dolphins & behaviour
• Nearly all choose to believe dolphins could leave easily if they felt harassed
• Most feel that the dolphins are ‘teasing’ them, e.g. staying ‘just out of reach’
•Many think it’s OK to touch dolphins & some have this as a major goal of the experience
• Some believe dolphins are fish

• Clients usually greatly enjoy the experience, even if they only see a few dolphins at the surface

• Boat operators behave differently with bottlenose vs. humpback dolphins
No attempt to swim with humpbacks
• No aggressive pursuing/encircling

• Boat operators appeared to be happy to find either type of dolphin, staying with whichever they came across for the duration of the trip

• During Feb. 2005 dolphin sightings were significantly rarer than expected by operators & researchers

• Install an identical briefing station at each of the departure venues:
• Posters with still images & basic information
• A continuous looping video of dolphins & interaction illustrating behaviour & responses
• Guidelines displayed for boats & swimmers
• Feedback forms & website URL (which would have a guestbook/feedback option)
• Gift merchandise stall

• Boat operator & guide licensing/training
• Training completion required for license
• Reporting mechanism for location, number & type of dolphins seen each trip with client numbers

• There may be cost-effective ways to upgrade observation & detection techniques, if this would be helpful:
• Add acoustic detection
• A ‘cow-catcher’ bar or trapeze for underwater viewing/imaging or a fixed underwater camera
• GIS-style database of sightings with GPS location, time, tide, lunar cycle, activity, number, species, water temperature

• Multi-disciplinary, multi-agency co-operation worked exceedingly well & facilitated a very productive short project

• There is an issue with harassment, even if the present population has not yet evacuated

• Increasing popularity might push exploitation levels beyond sustainability with current practices

• Upgraded practices could create improved conditions for the dolphins, better experiences for clients & increased income for operators


© JIOQ 2004, 2005

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