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Dolphin Watching in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman: Tourist Perceptions and Actual Current Practice

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Tourists who went dolphin watching in Muscat between December 2006 and June 2007 were asked to complete a questionnaire gauging the overall quality of their trips based on four main aspects: safety, educational value, perception of the boat driver's behavior, and overall satisfaction. Results showed that most tourists were satisfied with their dolphin-watching trip and that the majority felt that the boat drivers maintained a good distance between the boat and the dolphins, yet most also expressed the view that official guidelines should be established and implemented. However, awareness levels of tourists regarding the existence of dolphin-watching guidelines were low and tourist perceptions of their trips contrasted with observed practices, which reveal the current industry standards in Muscat to be lacking in many respects. The contrast is discussed and recommendations made for raising industry standards.
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Tourism in Marine Environments, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 81–93 1544-273X/11 $60.00 +.00
Printed in the USA. All rights reserved. DOI: 10.3727/154427311X13038402065866
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DOLPHIN WATCHING IN MUSCAT, SULTANATE OF OMAN:
TOURIST PERCEPTIONS AND ACTUAL CURRENT PRACTICE
LOUISA S. PONNAMPALAM*†‡
*Environment Society of Oman, Ruwi, Sultanate of Oman
†University Marine Biological Station Millport, Isle of Cumbrae, Scotland
‡Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tourists who went dolphin watching in Muscat between December 2006 and June 2007 were
asked to complete a questionnaire gauging the overall quality of their trips based on four main
aspects: safety, educational value, perception of the boat driver’s behavior, and overall satisfaction.
Results showed that most tourists were satisfied with their dolphin-watching trip and that the
majority felt that the boat drivers maintained a good distance between the boat and the dolphins,
yet most also expressed the view that official guidelines should be established and implemented.
However, awareness levels of tourists regarding the existence of dolphin-watching guidelines were
low and tourist perceptions of their trips contrasted with observed practices, which reveal the
current industry standards in Muscat to be lacking in many respects. The contrast is discussed and
recommendations made for raising industry standards.
Key words: Dolphin watching; Tourism; Perception; Guidelines; Muscat, Sultanate of Oman
Introduction the negative impacts of dolphin watching on ceta-
ceans. These have mainly considered instantaneous
or short-term effects (Blane & Jackson, 1994;The number of whale/dolphin-watching tours
offered globally since the 1990s has risen at an Constantine, 2001; Courbis & Timmel, 2009; Lus-
seau, Slooten, & Currey, 2006; Orams, 2000),average rate of 12.1% per year, with 87 countries
in 1998 offering various levels of whale/dolphin with long-term effects having been researched to
a much lesser extent (Lusseau, 2004). Variouswatching, in an industry that was worth at least
US$1 billion (Hoyt, 2001). A more recent eco- countries have established legislative regulations
and detailed guidelines for whale/dolphin watch-nomic survey quantified that 10 years later, in
2008, global whale-watching total expenditures ing (e.g., Birnie & Moscrop, 2000; Carlson, 2001),
although tour operators are not always compliantamounted to US$2.1 billion across 119 countries
(O’Connor, Campbell, Cortez, & Knowles, 2009). (Duprey, Weir, & Wu
¨rsig, 2008; Scarpaci, Nugeg-
oda, & Corkeron, 2004; Whitt & Read, 2006). De-Studies worldwide have addressed concerns over
Address correspondence to Louisa S. Ponnampalam, Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences, C308, IPS Building, University of
Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tel: 00 603 7967 4640; Fax: 00 603 7967 6994; E-mail: louisa.ponnampalam@gmail.com
81
82 PONNAMPALAM
spite the continued growth in this billion dollar beaked common dolphins (Delphinus capensis)
are the primary target species for the tours, as theyindustry, and concern by scientists regarding the
long-term effects of whale/dolphin watching on occur in large groups, are easily located year-
round relatively close to shore, and are known forcetaceans, many countries that offer this tourism
product lack official guidelines covering the activ- their energetic and acrobatic behavior. As such,
statements such as, “around 95% of our trips seeities of boats near cetaceans or have few or no
enforcement measures to make sure operators ad- dolphins, so if it is your dream to see dolphins, we
will make it true,” “it is very rare to not see podshere to guidelines (Carlson, 2001).
In the recent decade, as part of its plan to diver- of 100+dolphins, bottlenose, spinner dolphin and
the common dolphin, are the main ones,” andsify its oil-rich economy, the Omani government
began promoting Oman as an authentic tourism “more than twenty different species of cetacean
make their home in the Gulf of Oman, and thedestination in Arabia. Over the past 10 years,
Oman has seen a remarkable increase in its num- waters off Muscat are particularly rewarding for
the viewer” can be found advertised on the variousber of tourist arrivals and number of tour services
offered around the country (Baldwin, 2003). In websites of Muscat tour operators. Each dolphin-
watching trip generally lasts 2 hours, although1990, Oman saw only 149,000 tourist arrivals,
bringing a tourism receipt of no more than US$69 some are shorter, as they are part of multiactivity
packages that may also include snorkeling andmillion. By 2000, tourist arrivals had increased
nearly fourfold to 571,000 and were generating game fishing. Boat capacity for each tour is be-
tween eight and 25 passengers. Most tour opera-more than three times the income of 1990 at
US$221 million (World Tourism Organization, tors use Omani boat drivers, many of whom nei-
ther speak English well nor have much, if any,2006). The number of hotels also increased during
these years, with the total number of foreign specific knowledge or training on cetaceans or
other aspects of marine ecology. The dolphin-guests staying at these establishments reaching
1.65 million in 2006 (Ministry of National Econ- watching trips also lack an educational component
because most operators do not distribute informa-omy, 2007). With a coastline of approximately
3165 km, marine tourism has become one of the tional material, nor is there a tour guide onboard
to provide the tourists with a commentary aboutmore aptly marketed products in the country. Ac-
tivities such as game fishing, snorkeling, scuba the dolphins.
In Oman, apart from the law under Article 13diving, sea kayaking, and dolphin watching are
among the tourism products currently offered to of Ministerial Decision 4/94, which protects ceta-
ceans from consumptive use, there are no officialvisitors, and are becoming increasingly popular.
In his report, Hoyt (2001) stated that in 1998, guidelines in place for dolphin watching. Increased
levels of unregulated boat numbers and poor boat-22 new countries had begun offering whale watch-
ing, among which was Oman (Fig. 1). The first handling techniques around the dolphins off Mus-
cat necessitate research to promote sustainabilitydolphin-watching tour began in 1998, operating on
a twice-daily basis. Ten years later, in 2008, there and conservation. As such, questionnaires were
distributed to tourists on board dolphin-watchingwere at least 15 operators offering dolphin-watch-
ing tours off the capital city of Muscat (O’Connor trips in Muscat. The main aims of the question-
naire survey were to gauge the tourists’ percep-et al., 2009), each making at least two trips per
day in the peak season, and some even operating tions about the current standards of their dolphin-
watching trip in terms of safety, educational value,two boats per trip (personal observations). Al-
though exact numbers are not known at present, it and responsible dolphin watching among the boat
drivers. The results of this study can be used tois estimated that there may be approximately
7,500 dolphin-watching tourists per year in Mus- make recommendations to local authorities and
tour operators for the improvement of dolphin-cat, and the industry is currently worth approxi-
mately US$1.24 million. These values are expected watching tours in terms of safety, educational
value, and responsible, regulated dolphin-watch-to continue increasing (O’Connor et al., 2009).
Spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) and long- ing etiquette.
DOLPHING WATCHING IN MUSCAT 83
Figure 1. Map showing the location of the Sultanate of Oman, and the location of its capital, Muscat,
where dolphin-watching questionnaire surveys were conducted.
Data Collection watching trips. All questionnaires were written in
English and completed on a voluntary basis. Two
types of questionnaires, albeit with similar con-Five tour companies from the Muscat capital
area agreed to participate in this survey. Question- tent, were used in this study. The first was the
original questionnaire (N=58), as structured bynaires were distributed between December 2006
and June 2007 to passengers on board dolphin- the author and distributed to four of the five partic-
84 PONNAMPALAM
ipant tour companies. The second, as a compro- spondents said it was not their first dolphin-watch-
ing trip (Fig. 2). Of the 75 respondents who weremise to secure the participation of the remaining
company, was a version of the original question- on their first trip, only 37.3% (28) considered dol-
phin-watching in Muscat to be a priority in theirnaire as edited by the company’s personnel (N=
56). Most of the original questions were retained Oman itinerary. Conversely, of the 38 respondents
who were not on their first trip, 52.6% (20) con-in the edited questionnaire; however, the company
removed four questions asking tourists’ opinions sidered dolphin watching in Muscat to be a prior-
ity in their Oman itinerary (Fig. 2).on the boat driver’s boat maneuvering when near
the dolphins. The questionnaires contained three Only respondents who completed the original
version of the questionnaires were able to stateparts: predeparture information, which included
information on demographics; evaluation of expe- their level of knowledge about dolphins in the
wild prior to embarking on the dolphin-watchingrience during the trip; and posttrip evaluation on
value and satisfaction. Copies of completed ques- trip in Muscat (N=58). Of the 58 respondents,
70.7% (41) were on their first dolphin-watchingtionnaires were collated by the author, while the
original questionnaires were retained by the dol- trip while 29.3% (17) had previously been dolphin
watching. Most respondents who had previouslyphin-watching operators so that they could moni-
tor and evaluate the quality of their tourism prod- been dolphin watching claimed that they had a ba-
sic knowledge of dolphins in the wild (70.6%, 12)uct. A total of 114 questionnaires were completed
and returned by dolphin-watching tourists from and none claimed to have no knowledge (Fig. 3).
Conversely, 29.3% (12) of respondents who werefour tour operators. Unfortunately, one of the par-
ticipant tour companies failed to return any com- on their first dolphin-watching trip claimed no
knowledge of dolphins in the wild, while 53.7%pleted questionnaires.
(22) claimed to have very basic knowledge. How-
ever, overall, previous dolphin-watching experi-
Results
ence did not have a significant effect on the level
Demographic Representation of knowledge that respondents had about dolphins
of Dolphin-Watching Questionnaires in the wild [χ
2
(3) =7.36, p=0.06]. Interestingly,
one respondent who was a first-timer claimed to
Of the 114 respondents who took part in the
questionnaire, 50% (57) were female and 47.3%
(54) were male, while 2.6% (3) did not specify
their gender. Respondents between 40 and 49
years of age constituted the modal numerous age
class with 27% (32) of respondents, although re-
spondents between 30 and 39 years of age were
only a little less numerous at 24% (27). The high-
est percentage of respondents was British nation-
als (50%, 58). Europeans comprised the second
largest percentage of respondents (25.4%, 29). A
variety of other nationalities from the American,
African, and Asian continents, Middle East and
Australia made up the rest of the respondents in
much smaller percentages (each less than 10%).
Predeparture Information
Figure 2. Unfilled bars represent the percentage of respon-
dents who indicated that the dolphin-watching trip in Mus-
Previous Dolphin-Watching Experience and
cat was their first such trip. Hashed bars represent the per-
Priority on Oman Itinerary. Of the 114 respon-
centage of “first-timer” and “non-first-timer” respondents
dents, 65.8% (75) said that it was their very first
who indicated that dolphin watching in Muscat was a pri-
ority.
dolphin-watching trip, while 33.3% (38) of re-
DOLPHING WATCHING IN MUSCAT 85
Figure 3. Bar graph showing the percentages of the various levels of previous knowledge
about dolphins in the wild in tourists who had and had not been dolphin watching previously.
N=58 (original, unedited questionnaires).
be very knowledgeable while no respondents with dolphin-watching, with 92.1% (105) of respon-
dents acknowledging this (Table 1).previous dolphin-watching experience claimed to
be so (Fig. 3).
Dolphin-Watching Experience During Trip
Safety and Protocol Briefing. The boat drivers
on most dolphin-watching trips regularly gave a Only 58 respondents were able to respond to
the question pertaining to the boat handling of thepredeparture safety and protocol briefing. Of the
91 respondents who acknowledged that the said driver during their dolphin-watching trip. Of those
58, 82.8% (48) credited the boat driver with main-briefing was given on their trip, 92.3% (84) stated
that they were satisfied with the thoroughness of taining a good distance between the boat and the
dolphin group. Only 8.6% (5) thought that the boatthe briefing (Table 1). The boat drivers also dis-
tributed, or pointed out the storage location of life should not have been so close to the dolphin group
(Table 2). More than half of the respondents ofjackets onboard the boats prior to departure for
Table 1
Responses of Respondents on the Predeparture Safety and Protocol Briefing
of Their Trips (N=114)
No. Who Percentage Who
Responded Responded
Yes No Yes No
Boat driver gave predeparture safety briefing 91 19 79.8% 16.7%
*If yes, satisfied with briefing (was it thorough?) 84 7 92.3% 7.7%
Distribution of life jackets or storage location showed 105 6 92.1% 5.3%
86 PONNAMPALAM
Table 2
Respondents’ Experiences During Their Dolphin-Watching Trips in Muscat
No. of Respondents
Agreeing With Percentage
the Statement of Responses
The boat driver
a
(N=58):
Maintained a good distance between boat and dolphins 48 82.8%
Could and should have approached dolphins closer 4 6.9%
Was potentially disturbing the dolphins by driving too fast and dividing the group 4 6.9%
Should not have brought the boat so close to the dolphins 5 8.6%
Description of dolphin-watching experience (N=114):
Disappointing 1 0.9%
Mediocre 1 0.9%
Good 42 36.8%
Fantastic 69 60.5%
a
Respondents were able to supply more than one response for this question, hence responses totaled to more than 58 or 100%.
this survey (60.5%, 69) described their dolphin- said that they were not aware of legal dolphin-
watching guidelines anywhere in the world whilewatching experience in Muscat as “fantastic,”
while only one respondent claimed that his trip only 25.4% (29) said that they were aware of them
(Table 3). There were no significant differences inwas disappointing (Table 2). However, that re-
spondent had been on a multiactivity trip (dolphin the awareness levels about dolphin-watching guide-
lines between respondents who had previouslywatching, game fishing, and snorkeling), and com-
mented that the boat driver had dropped anchor on been on dolphin-watching trips and respondents
who had not [χ
2
(1) =0.10, p=0.76]. The differ-a large patch of live coral.
ences in awareness levels (aware vs. not aware)
Posttrip Evaluation among the age classes were also not significant
[χ
2
(5) =7.20, p=0.21]. Despite this lack of
Preference for Onboard Information. Of the
114 respondents, most (71.9%, 82) would have awareness, the majority of respondents (86.8%,
preferred onboard information about dolphins dur- 99) felt that dolphin-watching tour operators in
ing their trip, in one form or another (i.e., bro- Muscat should comply with a legal set of dolphin-
chure, onboard guide, or both). A total of 23.7% watching guidelines. Only 7% (8) did not feel it
(27) of respondents said that they did not want any was necessary (Table 3).
information and only wanted to watch dolphins
Tourist Satisfaction and Opinion About Accred-
(Table 3). Among the four options provided in the
questionnaire, 33.3% (38) chose the informative itation. When asked to rank four components
brochure as the preferred material they would (boat maneuvering, boat safety, staff friendliness,
have liked to have during their trip, while 15.8% and trip value for money) of their dolphin-watch-
(18) said that they would rather have had an on- ing trip in Muscat based on a 4-point Likert scale
board naturalist or dolphin-watching guide telling of 1 (poorest) to 4 (best), the majority of the 114
them about the dolphins (Table 3). Another 22.8% respondents ranked all four components of their
(26) said that they would like to have both a bro- trip as “3” or “4.” There were 62.3% (71) of re-
chure and a guide on their trip, which brings the spondents who ranked the boat maneuvering of the
total combined percentage of respondents who drivers while in the vicinity of dolphins as “best”
would want to have brochures to 56.1% (64), and while only 0.9% (1) ranked it as “poorest.” In
the total combined percentage of respondents who terms of safety, most respondents (57.9%, 66)
would want to have onboard guides to 38.6% (44) ranked safety onboard the trip as “best” while only
(Table 3). 0.9% (1) ranked it as “poorest.” The majority of
respondents (86.0%, 98) felt that the tour staff wasAwareness About Dolphin-Watching Guide-
lines. The majority of respondents (65.8%, 75) “best” in terms of friendliness. Finally, when
DOLPHING WATCHING IN MUSCAT 87
Table 3
Respondents’ Preferences for Information Material During the Trip and Their Awareness and Opinion About
Compliance With Legal Dolphin-Watching Guidelines (N=114)
No. of Percentage
Responses of Responses
Preferable information/education material during trip
Brochure 38 33.3%
Onboard naturalist/dolphin-watching guide 18 15.8%
Both brochure and onboard guide 26 22.8%
Do not want any information, just wanted to see dolphins 27 23.7%
No response 5 4.4%
Awareness about legal dolphin-watching guidelines (anywhere in the world)
Yes 29 25.4%
Somewhat aware 5 4.4%
No 75 65.8%
No response 5 4.4%
Opinion about whether tour operators should be following a legal set of dolphin-watching
guidelines
Yes 99 86.8%
No 8 7.0%
No response 7 6.1%
asked to rank their trip’s value for money, 65.8% this survey concurs with the conclusions of Hoyt
(2001), who reported that Europeans (including(75) responded with “best” while no respondent
felt that they wanted their money back (Table 4). Britons) comprised the majority of whale/dolphin
watchers in Oman. However, contrary to his reportAdditionally, most respondents (87.7%, 100) stated
that if given a choice and if an accreditation sys- that stated Germans comprised the bulk of whale-
watching tourists at that time (80%), the presenttem for quality assurance was in place, they would
rather join a dolphin-watching trip with a tour op- survey found that the largest group was British na-
tionals. In support of the present conclusion, gov-erator that had been accredited as a “responsible
tour operator” (Fig. 4). ernment data from 2003 to 2006 showed that tour-
ists from the UK topped the list of European
guests staying at hotels around Oman, with tour-
Discussion ists from Germany ranking second (Ministry of
National Economy, 2007).This study provides a first quantitative and
qualitative assessment of the dolphin-watching in- The results of this study showing the lack of
prioritization of dolphin watching in tourists’dustry in Muscat in terms of its demographics,
quality, current standards, and actual current prac- Oman itinerary concur with that of Hoyt (2001)
and O’Connor et al. (2009) that dolphin watchingtice. The general breakdown of nationalities from
Table 4
Respondents’ Answers When Asked to Rank Their Dolphin-Watching Experience in Muscat (N=114)
Rank
14
How Would You Rank: (Poorest) 2 3 (Best)
Boat maneuvering of driver during encounters with dolphins 1 (0.9%) 5 (4.4%) 35 (30.7%) 71 (62.3%)
Safety onboard boat 1 (0.9%) 7 (6.1%) 38 (33.3%) 66 (57.9%)
Friendliness of boat driver and staff 0 (0%) 2 (1.8%) 12 (10.5%) 98 (86.0%)
Value for money 0 (0%) 2 (1.8%) 33 (28.9%) 75 (65.8%)
88 PONNAMPALAM
Barrier Reef (Birtles, Valentine, Curnock, Arnold,
& Dunstan, 2002), San Juan Islands, Washington
(Andersen & Miller, 2006), and Newfoundland,
Canada (Corbelli, 2006). Most respondents here
commented positively with regards to their trip
and the distance maintained between the dolphins
and the boat. One respondent even commented
that she was “impressed with the sensitivity of the
captain” towards the dolphins. A small handful
even commended the boat driver for imparting in-
formation about the dolphins. Examples of com-
ments received were “appreciate that the skipper
shared his experiences about dolphins with us”
and “was pleased that the skipper knew a fair
amount about the dolphins and could share it with
Figure 4. Respondents’ opinions regarding whether they
us.” At the same time, however, it should be noted
would rather join a dolphin-watching trip with a tour opera-
that irrespective of age class, most tourists in this
tor that had been accredited as a “responsible operator” if
study seemed unaware that in developed countries
a quality assurance system was in place (N=114).
it is normal for legal dolphin-watching guidelines
to be operative, and thus they may not have a suf-
ficient framework upon which to evaluate theirin Muscat is, for the present, an incidental activity.
One factor that may contribute to this situation boat driver’s behavior. Among the whale/dolphin-
watching guidelines from different parts of themay be a general perception that Oman is not a
country most people would immediately associate world reviewed by Carlson (2001), many state that
vessels should not approach closer than 100–200with dolphin or whale watching. Even in Scotland,
where whale watching is a significant industry, meters of the whale(s) or dolphin(s), and that the
vessels should maintain a no-wake speed. By con-members of the general public who were ques-
tioned regarding their knowledge of whale watch- trast, the author regularly observed boat drivers
approaching dolphin groups to within less thaning mostly chose the US when asked which coun-
try they would associate with whale watching at 30–50 meters, often chasing them and driving into
the group during the present study.the first instance (Howard & Parsons, 2006). How-
ever, the higher number of non-first-timers who Tourists’ inability to appreciate appropriate dis-
tances for cetacean watching is not exclusive tostated that dolphin watching was a priority on their
trip suggests that the said group of respondents the tourists in Muscat. In Newfoundland and Lab-
rador, Canada, Corbelli (2006) found that onlywas either looking forward to dolphin watching
based on previous good experience, or that they 21% of whale-watching tourists who were sur-
veyed had expected to watch whales from dis-were or included people who had come to Oman
in part because they were dolphin-watching enthu- tances consistent with the guidelines (i.e., >100
m), distances that, in any case, only 27% weresiasts.
All respondents on this survey had seen dol- able to judge correctly. Likewise, O’Neill and Lee
(2001) found that 72% of swim-with-dolphin tour-phins on their trip, which logically contributed to-
wards their positive experience and “fantastic” or ists in Western Australia had expected to get
within “hugging distance” of dolphins. Unfortu-“good” responses. Similar responses were reported
in studies in other whale/dolphin watch locations nately, during the present study it was not possible
to assess the level of education of respondents orwhere interviews were conducted with tourists, all
or most of whom succeeded in seeing cetaceans to determine why awareness on dolphin-watching
guidelines might be low. However, the lack ofon trips off the coasts of California (Tilt, 1987),
Tangalooma, Australia (Orams, 2000), the Great awareness of dolphin-watching guidelines may be
DOLPHING WATCHING IN MUSCAT 89
associated with the fact that a high number of re- mals. Instead, once they have located the dolphins
they tend to approach them at speed. During a dol-spondents were first-timers and did not consider
dolphin watching in Muscat a priority activity. phin encounter, they try to stay as close as possi-
ble to the animals throughout the trip, sometimesThere are many improvements that could be
made to the educational value of dolphin-watching speeding through the middle of surfacing groups.
Thus, while educating tourists on board dolphin-trips in Muscat. Currently most tour operators do
not offer the services of an onboard tour guide or watching trips is important and has its advantages,
it is equally important that the boat drivers of suchdistribute interpretive material regarding the dol-
phins. The results of this study showed that dol- trips be educated and trained. It is most likely that
their inappropriate behavior is unintentional, andphin-watching tourists in Muscat would have ap-
preciated receiving educational information during merely a reflection of a lack of awareness con-
cerning dolphin-watching etiquette and of the neg-their trip. Similar results were found among swim-
with-dolphins tourists surveyed at three locations ative effects disruptive boat maneuvering can have
on cetaceans (Duffus & Dearden, 1993; Gjerdalen,in New Zealand, where although positive com-
ments were made about the boat driver and his 1997; Manfredo, 1992). It is also likely that the
intrusiveness of the boat drivers when approachingknowledge, there were three times as many tour-
ists who commented that more information should dolphin groups stems partially from the pressure
of thinking that they have to deliver an “up closehave been provided (Lu
¨ck, 2003). Most tourists
surveyed on whale-watching trips off Moreton Is- and personal” view of the animals to the tourists.
However, the said mindset can be changed or im-land, Australia considered the onboard commen-
tary about whales an important factor in contribut- proved if boat drivers and tourists are educated
and reminded that the dolphins are wild animals,ing to their enjoyment of the trip (Neil, Orams, &
Baglioni, 1996), and dolphin-watching tourists in and one cannot always guarantee their turnout on
a trip.Beaufort, North Carolina similarly valued the edu-
cational content of their trips (Latusek, 2002). An- Efforts also need to be made by the companies
employing the tour boat drivers to improve theirdersen and Miller (2006) also found that onboard
interpreters enhanced the whale/dolphin-watching command of English, many of whom speak little
or none of any language other than Arabic, partic-experience of tourists, this being a major factor
making for a memorable trip. They concluded that ularly considering the importance of British tour-
ists in their market. Some of these boat driversenvironmental education is essential for sustain-
able tourism. In general, providing educational in- were once fishermen and have an extensive
knowledge of the sea and local marine life. How-formation about cetaceans and marine life to whale/
dolphin-watching tourists not only encourages more ever, their poor command of English prevents
them from interacting with tourists and impartingpositive responses from them (e.g., better accep-
tance and improved appreciation for implementa- their knowledge. Safety aspects of dolphin-watch-
ing trips in Muscat can also be improved. Evention of guidelines, increased awareness for ceta-
ceans and marine conservation, improved tourist though safety briefings are presently given to tour-
ists prior to departure, only two operators havesatisfaction that could lead to repeat visits and rec-
ommendations) (Ballantyne, Packer, & Hughes, been observed to make wearing life jackets on
board their boats mandatory (personal observa-2009; Garrison, 2003), but also helps in prevent-
ing disappointment if cetaceans are not sighted on tions). During boat surveys in Muscat, tourists
without life jackets were observed leaning overthe trip as tourists still feel like they have had an
enriching experience (Andersen & Miller, 2006; the side of the boat and putting their hands into
the water in the hope of attracting dolphins to-Warburton, 1999).
At present, most boat drivers of dolphin-watch- wards the boat. These tourists risk falling into the
water and getting injured, and those who are noting tours in Muscat do not make a conscientious
effort to maneuver responsibly around the dol- swimmers risk drowning. There is also a frequent
presence of many artisanal fishing boats hand-phins so as to minimize disturbance to the ani-
90 PONNAMPALAM
lining for tuna around the dolphins. Should a tour- & Orams, 2008). Thus, while it is recommended
that tour operators in Muscat follow a set of guide-ist fall into the water, there is a risk of injury or
fatality from the rapid and haphazard movements lines when conducting dolphin watching, it is also
suggested that scientific research with impact andof these boats. While the wearing of life jackets
has not been proven to prevent drowning, they re- control factors be carried out as a priority and the
data used to inform and fine-tune the developmentduce the risk of such (Corte
´s, Hargarten, & Hennes,
2006). It is thus recommended that all operators in and implementation of the guideline that is spe-
cific to the dolphin populations found there.Muscat should make wearing of life jackets man-
datory, especially for child passengers. Some codes are termed legal (i.e., developed
by the government), while others are termed vol-There appeared to be positive feedback from
most survey respondents with regards to imple- untary (i.e., developed by NGOs and/or stakehold-
ers). With the help of researchers, the Environ-menting dolphin-watching guidelines in Muscat
despite the majority having a low level of aware- ment Society of Oman (ESO), and Ministry of
Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA), a setness of what such guidelines normally entail. In
several parts of the world, such as Australia, South of guidelines, perhaps voluntary, should be devel-
oped by the industry, for the industry. ExperienceAfrica, the US, and the Caribbean, where dolphin/
whale watching is a popular and important tourism elsewhere supports the view that if developed in
this manner, the guideline is more likely to be ef-activity, guidelines have been developed to mini-
mize disturbances towards the cetaceans that are fective because the stakeholders (i.e., tour opera-
tors), having participated in its formulation andbeing watched and to ensure the industry’s long-
term sustainability (Carlson, 2001). A similar set structure, will feel a greater sense of “ownership”
towards it (Garrod & Fennell, 2004; Parsons &of guidelines should be developed for and adopted
by the dolphin-watching industry in Oman. How- Woods-Ballard, 2003). In a preliminary round-
table discussion in 2006 between the ESO andever, in countries where such guidelines are in
place, it appears that they have usually been devel- Muscat tour operators, which the author attended,
all operators present were more receptive to guide-oped by governments and/or nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs) based solely on common lines that would be developed with their input,
rather than on guidelines that would be imposedsense and conduct that would seem to be logical
and acceptable from an ethical perspective. There upon their businesses. However, even if the guide-
line is voluntary (i.e., developed on a collaborativeis usually a lack of information derived from sci-
entific research to develop these guidelines in basis and implemented on a cooperative basis),
rules on guideline breaches should be enforced,terms of how boat activity might actually impact
the dolphins, such as approach distances that are and operators who are found noncompliant should
be fined by the authorities (Allen, Smith, Waples,actually appropriate, the suitable number of boats
at any one time, and the types of approaches that & Harcourt, 2007).
Alternatively, or additionally, Muscat’s dol-would cause the least disturbance. Various studies
have shown that dolphins react differently to dif- phin-watching industry could consider an accredi-
tation or certification program for tour companies.ferent circumstances, such as the number of boats,
methods of approach, and duration of exposure to Accreditation and certification are typical compo-
nents included in a “quality assurance continuum,”humans and boats. These studies have often shown
that frequent, increased and haphazard exposure to used by many industries for maintaining their pro-
fessionalism and environmental standards (Issav-boats have negative impacts on the targeted popu-
lations, such as decreased time spent resting, erdis, 2001), and have successfully been imple-
mented in places such as Scotland and Australiashorter residency within the area where the dol-
phins are usually found, and increased avoidance through the WiSe Scheme and EcoGuide Pro-
gramme, respectively. Based on the results of thisof boats (Christiansen, Lusseau, Stensland, & Berg-
gren, 2010; Constantine, Brunton, & Dennis, 2004; study, it appears that tourists were generally in fa-
vor of sound and ethical practices pertaining toLusseau, 2004, 2005, 2006; Stensland & Berg-
gren, 2007; Stockin, Lusseau, Binedell, Wiseman, nature and wildlife; they were thus likely to be
DOLPHING WATCHING IN MUSCAT 91
discerning towards operators with good principles. gional Municipalities, Environment and Water Re-
sources (now known as the Ministry of Environ-Similarly, whale-watching tourists surveyed in
Scotland were found to be more environmentally ment and Climate Affairs), the former Ministry of
Agriculture and Fisheries (now known as the Min-aware than general tourists, and thus likely to be
more particular about choosing tour operators with istry of Fisheries Wealth), and the Oman Natural
History Museum of the Ministry of Heritage andproven or accredited good practice (Parsons,
Warburton, et al., 2003). Likewise, in the Domini- Culture for granting the author permission to con-
duct her research. Thanks are also owed to thecan Republic, a survey of tourists in the marine
mammal tourism industry indicated that they gen- Board Members of the Environment Society of
Oman for their support. The author would like toerally favored tourism practices that were sustain-
able and expressed preference for the tour opera- thank the Muscat-based tour operators for allow-
ing the questionnaires to be distributed to theirtors to partake in conservation issues (Draheim,
Bonnelly, Bloom, Rose, & Parsons, 2010). customers. Many thanks are owed to Howard Gray
for assisting with the collection of completed
questionnaires. Last, but not least, the author isConclusions
also grateful to Gianna Minton, Robert Baldwin,
Improved safety, educational, and etiquette stan- Anouk Ilangakoon, and the two anonymous re-
dards will become increasingly important and nec- viewers for their feedback, which helped improve
essary if Muscat’s dolphin-watching industry con- an earlier version of the manuscript.
tinues to expand. Tour operators need to be more
receptive towards long-term benefits that the in-
Biographical Note
dustry can bring when it is developed and man-
Louisa Ponnampalam is a Malaysian marine mammal re-
aged properly, and look beyond the current per-
searcher who started out as a marine science student at the
ception that it is sufficient simply to take tourists
University of Hawaii at Hilo. She then went on to pursue
out to view dolphins without any other added
her Ph.D. at the University of London, researching small
components. Given its potential for expansion, as
cetaceans in the Sultanate of Oman. She is currently a post-
doctoral researcher at the University of Malaya, Kuala
measured by the increasing number of tourists and
Lumpur, and is working towards developing cetacean re-
the promotion of Oman as an authentic and exotic
search in Peninsular Malaysia.
Arabian destination, the success of a well-managed
industry could place Oman as the leader of such
tours in the region (Baldwin, 2003; Hoyt, 2001). Coordinating Editor: Simon Berrow
In comparison with other Gulf Cooperation Coun-
cil (GCC) States, the year-round presence of large
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... Accordingly, for the last decade dolphin watching has been promoted as an ecotourism activity with strong education and conservation benefits for cetaceans and their habitats (Anderson & Miller, 2006;Corkeron, 2004;Garrod & Wilson, 2003;Orams, 1994;Orams, 1995;Zeppel & Muloin, 2008). However, only a few studies have investigated the potential of dolphin watching tours in changing the awareness of the participants and improving their pro-conservation sentiments (Draheim et al., 2010;García-Cegarra & Pacheco, 2017;Mayes et al., 2004;Orams, 2000;Ponnampalam, 2011;Stamation et al., 2007;Zeppel & Muloin, 2008). ...
... This study highlights a high level of satisfaction from the dolphin watching participants in both destinations that increased statistically when dolphins were encountered. This high satisfaction is consistent with other studies that investigated whale watching tours (Draheim et al., 2010;Kessler et al., 2014;Lück, 2003;Orams, 2000;Ponnampalam, 2011). Participant satisfaction is also generally higher when education and information are provided during the tour (Ballantyne et al., 2009;Garrison, 2003;García-Cegarra & Pacheco, 2017;Ponnampalam, 2011), because participants have an enriched experience which may reduce the disappointment if they do not see any cetaceans during the tour (Anderson & Miller, 2006;Warburton, 1999). ...
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... Participants were highly educated with over 80% having a tertiary qualification; again with there being no significant difference between Control and Test Groups in regard to the highest level of formal qualification (X 2 = 3.68, df = 4, p = 0.45). These findings support previous research highlighting that whale watchers tend to be middle aged, middle class, and well educated (Birtles, Valentine, Curnock, Arnold, & Dunstan, 2002;Chen, 2011;Lück, 2015;Orams, 1999;Parsons et al., 2003;Peake, 2011;Ponnampalam, 2011). ...
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... Mayes, Dyer, and Richins (2004) demonstrated that people felt more positive towards conservation and were willing to support conservation programmes after dolphin encounters in New Zealand. On the other hand, Ponnampalam (2011) proved that whale-watching tours performed in Oman, with poor onboard environmental interpretation and/or education, had no effect on increasing conservation awareness in dolphin-watchers. Although collectively, these examples suggest there is potentially a short-term enhancement of conservation attitudes via interpretation on whale-watching vessels, it is important to understand the social and ecological context in which the activity takes place, as cultural and societal norms differ between communities (Vaske & Donnelly, 1999). ...
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The marine mammal fauna found in the waters surrounding the Arabian Peninsula includes 24 species belonging to two Orders: Cetartiodactyla (Bryde’s whale, blue whale, Omura’s whale, humpback whale, sperm whale, dwarf and possibly pygmy sperm whale, Cuvier’s beaked whale, Indo-Pacific common dolphin, pygmy killer whale, short-finned pilot whale, Risso’s dolphin, killer whale, melon-headed whale, false killer whale, Indian Ocean humpback dolphin, pantropical spotted dolphin, striped dolphin, spinner dolphin, rough-toothed dolphin, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin, common bottlenose dolphin, Indo-Pacific finless porpoise), and Sirenia (dugong). The knowledge of the conservation status of marine mammal populations in the Arabian seas region is still poor, due to the low density of local research and monitoring efforts, making it very difficult to compare the current condition of the region’s marine mammals with that of conspecifics from other parts of the world. Anthropogenic pressure factors impacting on Arabian seas marine mammals include noise produced by seismic exploration, disturbance from poorly regulated or unregulated whale or dolphin watching operations, disturbance from vessel traffic and connected noise, ship strikes, direct takes, bycatch in fishery operations, pollution, habitat degradation caused by coastal development, extensive overfishing and harmful algal blooms. The dearth of information about the ecology of marine mammals from the Arabian region results in our enduring inability to understand where conservation action is most urgent.
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