Sunday, April 23, 2006

Irresponsible Tourism in Action

As I’ve mentioned before, a number of ‘copy-cat’ operators have started to offer dolphin watching tours at Santubong and many of these are not very knowledgeable. I’d heard about a blue boat that regularly harasses the dolphins, chasing them around the bay.

On Saturday 22nd April after kayaking to Salak village, FH20 and I paddled back to the river estuary and encountered three groups of Irrawaddy dolphins. We stopped paddling and just sat in the kayak watching the dolphins surface nearby.

We then spotted a tourist boat some distance away watching another group of dolphins. Both of us were shocked at what we saw. It was the infamous blue boat, the very same boat that responsible dolphin watching operators have expressed concern about.

I could not believe what this boat was doing. The boatman was driving the boat directly towards the group, not parallel to the group, but straight towards the direction the group was swimming. This action split the group up and they moved on, surfacing some distance away from the boat. The boatman then repeated the action, moving at speed towards the group and splitting the group up again. The boat was clearing disturbing the dolphins.

As the boat was off in the distance there was nothing we could do so we carried on watching the groups near us and hoped the boat would not come near us. We remained in the same spot in the river with the three groups surfacing around us. Three dolphins swam towards the kayak and passed just metres away. Another group were socialising on the surface of the water 30 metres away. The different groups then came together in the same area and we just sat there enjoying the experience. But it wasn’t to last.

We heard the loud noise of a boat approaching at speed. We turned around and saw the blue boat speeding towards the group of dolphins which were now 40 metres from our kayak. We were livid as we watched the boat motor towards the group of dolphins. We shouted to the boatman to slow down and keep its distance but the boat drove straight into the combined group. The three groups of dolphins that had come together to socialise on the surface quickly dived and fled.

By this time we had enough, so we paddled over to the boat to politely ask the boatman to stop harassing dolphins and give him a bit of advice on how he should approach the dolphins. Maybe he’d then stop disturbing the dolphins and the tourists could also enjoy a better experience.

But the boatman would not listen to us and said that he knew what he was doing. So we give him a piece of our mind and asked the tourists if they knew what they had just been part of. The tourists kept quiet. They probably thought we were a couple of nutters. The boat then left and headed towards the Kuching Wetlands National Park. With the bad ‘Chi’ in the air we paddled back to shore.

If Sarawak is to have a sustainable dolphin watching industry, all boat operators need to behave in a responsible manner and put the dolphins first. Tourists also need to play their part. If they experience such behaviour they should ask their boatman to stop chasing the dolphins and report the operator. Better still don’t go out on a tour with an inexperienced operator. But in the long run the only solution will be the establishment of dolphin watching guidelines and proper training for inexperienced boatmen.


FH2O said...

What otherwise would have been a perfect morning was spoilt by this irresponsible tour operator; leaving a very bad taste in my mouth.

This is the first time I could recall for a very long time that I came close to losing my cool. (If I did it would have been one very sorry boatman ... Time to meditate FH2o!)

The callous boatman and the apparently indifferent tourists are equally shocking. As if they're herding cattles out there! For goodness sake, people these are protected intelligent mammals!! Duh!

joel said...

This is bad. Did you report this to the authorities? I mean surely something must be done? Btw, fh20, I see you've had contact with quakers. Kuching is a small small world.

cooking4STP said...

the bastards. If you ever see the boat again, take down the craft registration number and report to the marine police. It's ppl with these dumb**s mentality that's ruining our wildlife. The same goes for those who consume turtle eggs!

Anonymous said...

you also use boat to scare awayt dophin also may be u should stay far and watch dophin there

Anonymous said...

Well in Kratie Cambodia, all the boats chase the dolphins and over 10 boats have been sighted crowding round one group during peak season....

Anonymous said...

So it's much worse in Kratie BUT really, it should all be regulated and where the current allows, kayaks are the best experience. I can't fathom why people would want noisy motor boats that does nothing to the enjoyment of the tranquility of the environment which one paid for the enjoy. Btw, I'm not responsible for the first anonymous posting. That clearly sounds like someone from the blue boat operator.