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Permit Holders for BBWW - South Africa

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PERMITS for Whale and Dolphin Watching Operators

The South African law regarding close approach at sea to whales and dolphins requires the boat operator to be in possession of a Permit. Any vessel approaching closer than 300 metres (whether it is a motorized vessel, fishing vessel, yacht, airplane or helicopter) without a Permit is breaking the law

In fact, an Operator is not allowed to advertise Boat Based Whale Watching unless in posession of a valid Permit.

Should you be a passenger on such a vessel and an incident or accident occurs, you will not be covered by insurance! as the activity is illegal.

Should you be on such a vessel or craft and it is stopped by an official, as a passenger you can also be heavily fined for contravention of the law!

As a passenger on any craft that is approaching or intends to approach whales and dolphins close up, you are entitled to see a copy of their valid PERMIT. This should be displayed on the vessel, but if not, should be produced on board on demand. Should you not have sight of the Permit, it is recommended you immediately disembark and report the operator to the nearest police station.

FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY AND PEACE OF MIND, AS WELL AS TO PROTECT THE WELL-BEING OF THE ANIMALS, PLEASE TAKE THIS MATTER SERIOUSLY.

MARINE LIVING RESOURCES ACT, 1998 (ACT NO. 18 OF 1998)

REGULATIONS IN TERMS OF MARINE LIVING RESOURCES ACT, 1998

Whales, dolphins and turtles

58. (1) No person, shall except on the authority of a permit-

(a) engage in fishing, collecting, killing, attempting to kill, disturbing, harassing, keeping or conrolling of, or be in possession of, any whale or any part or product thereof at any time;

(b) use any fish processing establishment, fishing vessel or any other vessel for the freezing or processing of whales or participate in any manner in the operation of or such activities on such an establishment, fishing vessel or vessel;

(c) have on board any fishing vessel or vessel any gear, apparatus or appliance which can be used in any manner for the fishing, freezing or processing of whales;

(d) supply any ships stores to any fishing vessels registered in a foreign state and used for the fishing, freezing or processing of whales or which has any connection with such fishing, freezing, or processing;

(e) operate any whale watching business that causes a disturbance or harassment of any whale within the meaning of subregulation (2); or

(f) offer his or her services for or make available his expertise in connection with any of the activities referred to in this subregulation.

(2) For the purpose of subregulation (1), “disturbing or harassing’ shall also include-

(a) the shooting at any whale;

(b) approaching closer than 300 metres to any whale by means of a fishing vessel, vessel, aircraft or other method; and

(c) that in the event of a whale surfacing closer than 300 metres from a fishing vessel, vessel, or aircraft, the person in charge of such fishing vessel, vessel or aircraft fails to proceed immediately to a distance of at least 300 metres from the whale:

Provided that paragraphs (b) and (c) shall not apply to Bonifide efforts by any person rendering aid to a beached, Entrapped or entangled whale.

(3) No person shall, except on the authority of a permit, engage in fishing, collecting, killing, attempting to kill, disturbing, harassing, keeping or controlling of, or be in possession of, any

dolphin or porpoise or any part or product thereof at any time.

(4) For the purposes of subregulation (3), “disturb or harass” shall also include the deliberate driving a fishing vessel or vessel through a school of dolphins or porpoises.

(5) No person shall-

(a) feed any wild dolphin or porpoise; or

(b) advertise or engage in any fishing vessel or vessel trip, whether for gain or not, which is intended to provide for a swim-with-dolphin experience.

(6) Subregulations (3), (4), and (5) shall not apply to bona fide efforts by any person rendering aid to a beached, entrapped or entangled dolphin or porpoise.

(7) No person shall, except on the authority of a permit, engage in fishing, collecting, killing, attempting to kill, disturbing, harassing, keeping or controlling of, or be in possession of, any turtle or any part or product thereof at any time.

Permit conditions for cetacean watching

The following Permit Conditions were drawn up by MCM in 1998, and will be subject to revision. Permit Conditions are as follows:

  1. The letter “W” must be displayed on the vessel next to the Area Number.
  2. The permit Holder shall not use any vessel unless it bears the registration letter and numbers assigned thereto by the Director General. Such letters and numbers shall be painted in white on black background or in black upon white background on both bows in characters not less than 15 cm in height, 10 cm in breadth (figure “1” excepted) and 2cm in thickness (width of stroke). The space between adjacent letters and figures shall be between 2 cm and 5 cm. On vessels longer than 25 m additional letters and numbers shall be affixed on both the port and starboard side of the cabin. Such letters and numbers shall be painted in white on a black background or in black on a white background in characters of not less than 50cm in height, 30 cm in breadth (figure “1” excepted) and 10cm in thickness (width of stroke). Ant registration letters and numbers assigned to, and borne by a vessel, shall be maintained in a clear, distinct and legible condition and shall at all times be clearly exposed.
  3. Should the Permit Holder not perform during the period for which this permit is valid, or fails to make any attempt to utilise his/her permit, such rights may be renewed, reduced or withdrawn.
  4. Certified and dated statistics shall be rendered monthly on a Standardised Logbook prescribed for this purpose. This book must be kept on board the vessel at all times, and the relevant information must be entered each day, before the end of each trip. It must be available for inspection by a Fisheries Control Officer at all times. The Permit Holder shall submit a monthly facsimile of the Logbook not later than the 15th of the following month by registered post to the Chief Director: Marine and Coastal Management.
  5. The Permit Holder shall not transfer this vessel or any interest therein without the prior approval of the Chief Director: Marine and Coastal Management.
  6. The Permit and the Code of Conduct or a copy thereof shall be available on board the vessel and shall be produced on demand to a Fishery Control Officer or any other authorised officer.
  7. The Permit is only valid for the specific area issued and is not transferable to any other area.
  8. The Permit Holder must adhere to all the conditions prescribed in the Boat Based Whale Watching Code of Conduct. If any conditions are violated, or the monthly statistics for the Logbook not submitted before the 15th of the following month, the permit may be withdrawn.
  9. Vessels used for whale watching must conform to all South African Maritime Safety Authority (formerly Dept. of Transport – DOT) regulations. They must be licensed by SAMSA for commercial passenger carrying.
  10. Skippers of all whale watching vessels must be in possession of a valid SAMSA skipper’s license.
  11. The vessel’s skipper or guide must be a registered SATOUR guide and must have completed the specialised module on whales or within a period of 3 months from the date of issue of the permit.
  12. The permit Holder shall be the skipper or the guide of the vessel.
  13. All whale watching vessels to fly a specified flag when carrying clients on whale watching excursions.
  14. All whale watching vessels shall provide an adequate interpretation: education service , as prescribed.
  15. Permit Holders may be required to carry one or more bona fide Marine and Coastal Management representatives, given a minimum notification period of 24 hours.
  16. All whale watching vessels shall carry a logging GPS and must log positions every 5 minutes. Positions may only be deleted at the start of the next trip.

Code of conduct: Conditions governing commercial operations around any marine mammal

Aim: The Code of Conduct for Cetaceans under Observation by Permit Holders, covers interactions between people and cetaceans in the wild during recreational observation activities and has three main aims:

# to minimize harmful impacts on cetacean populations by ensuring that the normal pattern of daily and seasonal activity of whales and dolphins is maintained for the short and long term.
# to ensure opportunities for watching or interacting with cetaceans in the wild can be sustained.
# to develop a supportive public, to encourage realistic expectations of encounters and to prevent pressure from the public for increasingly risky behaviour.

Special Conditions Applying to Whales:

  • The operator must be a registered SATOUR guide and must have completed the special whale module in terms of the tourism act, and be a member of the local tourism structure.
  • No alcohol to be consumed or sold during the whale watching trips.
  • The operator is responsible for the behaviour of all passengers and crew.
  • Vessels may not be placed in the path of an approaching whale.
  • Operators must avoid restricting the movement or behaviour of the whales.
  • Anchorage within 300 m of a whale is prohibited.
  • Echo sounders must remain switched either off or on within 300 m of a cetacean.
  • Designated closed areas are to be avoided.
  • Swimmers and divers may not enter the water or be closer than 300 m from any whale or dolphin.
  • Playback of underwater sound of any kind is prohibited. This includes playback of recorded whale, dolphin or seal sounds or songs.
  • It is not permitted for the passengers to touch or attempt to feed whales or dispose of any garbage or sewerage in the sea (including cigarette butts). There is to be no smoking on all permitted vessels visiting whales.

Speed of Approach and Departure:

  • When approaching or leaving cetaceans operators must move at a slow, “no wake” speed within 300 metres of the closest animal. Operators must avoid speeds over 10 knots, or sudden changes of speed or direction within 500 metres of whales and 300 m for dolphins.

Approach Distances:

  •  Permit holders may not approach closer than 50 m of any whale or dolphins.
  • Permit holders may not allow vessels to drift down to within 50 m of any species of cetacean, due to wind, currents, or forward movement. Such movement constitutes and approach and is not permitted.

Approach and Engagement of Whales:

  1. Within a minimum distance of 300m all whales should be approached quietly, with motors at near idling speed (“no wake speed”). No person shall make any loud or disturbing noise near whales.
  2. All approaches should be made from a parallel direction, slightly from the side and not directly from the rear or head-on. Vessels may not drift down on whales.
  3. At a distance of 50m from any cetaceans, the vessel must proceed in a slow, straight course away from the cetacean or may proceed parallel to the cetacean at “no wake speed” or may place the engine in neutral. Continuous engagement and disengagement of the propellers to remain on station must be avoided. At 50m distance for all species, the cetaceans must be permitted to control the nature and duration of the interaction, including any close approach to the vessel. Operators should be able to keep track of all whales during an encounter.
  4. The duration of the close contact (<50m) with the whale or group of whales should be limited to 20 minutes, while the total duration of the contact (<300m) should not exceed 30 minutes. Whales approached may only be revisited a maximum of twice in a day, with a minimum of 3 hours between visits.
  5. There must be no rapid changes in direction or speed except in an emergency. If the whale flukes, the propellers must be disengaged until the whale surfaces again.
  6. “Common sense” rules should be applied, in that whales that are not friendly, should not be approached at all. Animals displaying threatening behaviour such as tail slapping, must be avoided for the safety of all on board. In addition, contact with any Marine Mammal should be abandoned at any stage if one of the following indicators suggests disruptive behaviour caused by the vessel:
    (i) Rapid changes in the speed and direction of movement of the cetaceans.
    (ii) Escape tactics such as prolonged diving, underwater course changes or underwater exhalations.
    (iii) Evasive swimming patterns such as rapid swimming at the surface.
    (iv) Changes in respiration patterns.
    (v)  Certain surface behaviour such as tail slashes or flipper or tail slap.
  7. Whales may not be encircled, separated from other whales, or the vessel placed within a group of whales.
  8. Approaching cow-calf pairs (closer than 300 m) is forbidden. Should this accidentally occur, the vessel must leave the area at a constant “no wake” speed.
  9. When departing, wait until all the whales are clear before moving directly away at no wake speed until 300m away.

Approach and Engagement of Bryde’s, Humpback and Sperm Whales:

  • Should any of these species of whales not approach the vessel but continue to move in a straight line, vessels may travel at “no wake” speed from a parallel direction, slightly from the side, and not directly from the rear or head on, but may not approach closer than 50 m or move ahead of the whale.
  • In such cases, after an observation period of twenty minutes the vessel must break off the contact and proceed directly away. Vessels may not drift down on whales.

Vessels must however immediately abort contact if any one of the above indicators suggest disruptive behaviour.

Special conditions applying to dolphins or seals

In addition to complying with conditions set out above, any commercial operation shall comply with the following:

Rules for the approach and engagement of dolphins:

  • No vessel may exceed the speed of the slowest moving dolphin within 50 m of dolphins.
  • No vessel shall proceed directly through a school of dolphins.
  • Dolphins may be approached to within 50 m and contact should be broken unless the animals leave the school to approach the vessel. In particular, females with calves should not be approached or pursued and should be avoided unless they approach the vessel to bow ride.
  • Engagement times for dolphin schools should not exceed 20 minutes.
  • Diving or swimming with dolphins is prohibited.
  • Feeding dolphins is prohibited.
  • Humpback dolphins (Sousa chinesis) may be approached, but as this species is particularly shy, care should be taken not to approach closer than 50 m unless the dolphins approach the vessel.
  • Vessels departing from the vicinity of dolphin schools may exceed 3 knots in order to outdistance the dolphins but must increase the speed gradually and shall not exceed 10 knots within 300 m of any dolphin.
  • Where two or more vessels approach a school of dolphins, the skippers concerned shall co-ordinate their approach and manoeuvres. Only one boat shall approach at a time while the other stands off at a distance of 100 m.

Approach of seal colonies:

(i) Seal colonies should be approached at no wake speed preferably from down wind and vessels should remain at least 20 m from the colony.
(ii) There must be no sudden engine or loud noise to prevent and panic of the colony. Particular care must be taken during the breeding season (November to January).
(iii) Pods of seals are to be approached at no wake speed to within a distance of 10 m when the engine is to be placed in neutral.
(iv) Care must be taken when departing from seal pods, with vessels not exceeding “no wake speed” within 50 m of colonies or 20 m from seal pods.

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