Strict guidelines set for whale and dolphin watching
Stringent new regulations have been drawn up to cover all aspects of the whale and dolphin watching industry. Conditions will apply to all owners and operators of such tour vessels, the crew, and the passengers.
The regulations cover annual licensing, mandatory insurance for vessels and passengers, lifesaving requirements, fees to be levied, and guidelines for conduct when the mammals are sighted.
The Sea Mammals (Observation, Regulation and Control) Regulations have been compiled under the Fauna and Flora Ordinance and will be presented shortly to Parliament by the Minister of Agrarian Services and Wildlife.
Under the new regulations, any vessel used to take visitors to spots that are the natural habitat of sea mammals should carry a license issued by the Director – General, Wild Life Conservation, or an authorised officer. Vessel owners should register with the Department of Wildlife Conservation and pay an annual license fee of Rs. 5,000.
A certificate of fitness is required for each vessel, and full insurance cover from an approved insurance company. The insurance must cover crew members and the maximum number of passengers permitted. Proof that the vessel is equipped with lifejackets and other essential lifesaving equipment for crew and passengers must be produced. Licenses will be issued according to sea zones authorised by the Director General Wild Life.
The license issued to the owner or the operator of a vessel will not be transferable.The Department of Wildlife Conservation will train and register all whale-and-dolphin watch tour guides. A guide, an operator and an assistant operator must be on board on any vessel that sets out on a whale-and-dolphin watching expedition.
The departure point must be a designated boat-yard, and the vessel must return to the same point. The vessel’s identification number should be visible from a distance of 50 metres. Sea mammals may be observed only during the 13-and-a-half hour period between 5.30 am and 7 pm.
Once a sea mammal is spotted, the vessel should start reducing speed and stop at a distance of 400 metres. In the case of whales, the vessel engine must be switched off at a distance of 100 metres from the animal. At no stage should the vessel be closer than 100 metres from the whale. In respect of other mammals, the vessel may not move closer than 50 metres of the mammals.
No vessel may ply in front of or behind the mammals, and care should be taken that the vessel at no time blocks the migratory routes of these mammals.
Liquor is prohibited on board, and no person found to be under the influence of alcohol will be allowed to board the vessel.
Communication equipment is mandatory on each vessel, including global positioning systems (GPS).
No vessel for mammal-observation should go out to sea if the weather is bad. Should the weather turn for the worse during an expedition, the operator of the vessel must immediately direct the vessel landwards.
The fee to be charged for mammal watching will be Rs. 20 per local person and Rs. 10 per local child between six and 12 years. The fee for visitors from overseas is US$8 per adult, or the equivalent in Sri Lankan rupees, and US$ 4 per child.
The fee for schoolchildren is Rs. 5.
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