World Whale Congress planned for Durban

Chance for city to join an international whale tourism route

With the 4th World Whale Congress being hosted in Durban in June this year, whale-based tourism in KwaZulu-Natal is likely to get a giant boost.

The eco-tourism potential of whale conservation shall come under the spotlight at a World Whale Congress happening in Durban in June. Photo: Ken Finlay

At the top of the agenda is the creation of Whale Heritage Sites (WHS) – an initiative launched by World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) in April last year.

The initiative aims to connect and promote sustainable and responsible whale watching enterprises worldwide.

So far, six world renowned whale watching destinations have applied for WHS status. They are North Vancouver Island (Canada), Hervey Bay and Port Stephens (Australia), Peninsula Valdes (Argentina), Nantucket (USA) and Azores (Portugal).

The forthcoming World Whale Congress could inspire Durban to follow suite.

Besides serving as a gateway to whale and dolphin watching in KZN, local tourism operators and conservation agencies believe that the city’s whaling past could be developed into a signature eco-tourism enterprise.

Durban once had the biggest land-based whaling station in the world. By the late 1980s, several species of whales had been hunted to the brink of local extinction.

At Port Natal Maritime Museum a growing archive of artefacts, photos, and associated documentation from the old whaling station the Bluff have already become the mainstay of WhaleTime tours operated by five young tourism guides from Umlazi.

They hope to ultimately extend the WhaleTime tours to the old whaling station on the Bluff, but the historic site is currently used by the military for target-shooting practice.

“Our challenge is to turn this all into a conservation success story. Durban is ideally positioned to promote ethical whale-based tourism enterprises, and to use the presence of these iconic species to create awareness about ocean conservation issues,” said Nikki Chapman of the ocean expedition agency, SeaQuests, which helped train the WhaleTime guides.

Dr Jean Harris, head of Ezemvelo’s scientific services division agreed. “The strong recovery of the humpback whale populations that migrate close inshore along our coast is a great story, and brings ecotourism opportunities that could ultimately create more jobs than whaling once did”, said Harris.

WCA chief executive, Dylan Walker said the hosting of the World Whale Congress in Durban would help galvanise these efforts and unite national, regional and global stakeholders from whale conservation and welfare backgrounds, the whale watching industry, as well as travel and tourism companies.

“It is for everybody interested in marine conservation and ecotourism, particularly our Africa colleagues,” said Walker. “We have been hugely impressed with KwaZulu-Natal, its friendly people and its focus on conservation and sustainability.”

The conference is scheduled to take place at Durban’s Protea Edward Hotel from June 24 – 29 and is expected to attract 200 international delegates.

The conference shall culminate with Whale Heritage Site candidates showcasing their destinations and exploring the development of new sites in Africa. – ‘www.rovingreporters.co.za

This story forms part of Roving Reporters’ Ocean Watch series supported by the Human Elephant Foundation. The story was also published in today’s Sunday Tribune.

These historic photographs form part of the Port Natal Maritime Museum’s growing archive of artefacts, photos, and associated documentation from the old whaling station on the Bluff.

Now read: The WhaleTime girls

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