Responsible Tourism – Canary Islands’ Marine Life

Few places in the world, let alone in Europe, boast natural beauty like the Canary Islands. Swimming in the beautiful sea water that surrounds the islands are at least twenty-eight different species of whales and dolphins. Some of these mammals reside in the area while others are simply stopping-off during migration.

In order to protect marine life, the habits of these animals need to be better understood. Fortunately, the unique geographical and aquatic characteristics of the Canary Islands make it one of the few places where species such as the short-finned pilot whale, the Atlantic spotted dolphin or the Bryde’s whale can be regularly observed. There are only a few other places in the world where it is possible to observe up to nine different species in a single day.

There are few sights in life as remarkable as seeing the sudden swish of a dolphin or whale as it pulls up to the surface. It is understandable that spotting sea life such as whales, dolphins, sperm whales is a major tourist attraction. But this poses questions as to how this tourist demand can be managed responsibly?

A protected species

Cetaceans are aquatic mammals, such as dolphins and whales, and are protected by regional, national and European regulations as well as by specific conventions ratified by the Spanish state. Several parts of the Canary Islands are specifically protected under the remit of a Special Conservation Zone (ZEC) as specified by the Natura 2000 network. The Society for the Study of Cetaceans in the Canary Islands (SECAC) outlines the importance of the Canary Islands in the protection of cetaceans: “several species present in Canary Islands are little known in the rest of the world. The islands are an ideal place for research and conservation work to be carried out on these marine mammals.”

Dangers of boat saturation

Elsa Jiménez is director of the Cram Foundation, a private non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the marine environment. “The increased number of boats in places where cetaceans live can affect their lives,” she says. “For example, noise from boat engines can impair communication and can distort messages between the animals.”. A large number of boats can cause stress to dolphins and whales, while collisions with boats are also a risk factor for the animals.

Blue Boat Badge

Responsible tourism is vital to protect marine life. In the Canary Islands the blue boat badge scheme for cetacean trips has been extended. The yellow flag with the blue boat logo inside certifies that this particular boat complies with laws that guarantee cetacean’s safety, for example tourists are forbidden from feeding or bathing with the animals, or boats maintaining a safe distance of sixty meters and approaching animals slowly. Boats are also asked to avoid sudden and repeated changes of direction. Engine revs and gear changes should be minimalized. Interaction with the animals should last no longer than half an hour and tourists are asked to be quiet when they are close to the cetaceans. The regulations also state that if a build-up of boats develops, vessels should disperse.

Cetacean well-being

It’s more about being careful than banning access to these animals” says Elsa Jiménez. “It’s important to remember that this is a tourist activity which has potential to educate and raise awareness”. Jiménez thinks that scientists are vital to protecting marine life and play a key role as advisors. It is through their knowledge that the well-being of the cetaceans is protected. “Cetacean population numbers are more or less stable. We have good knowledge of the areas the animals go through, their routines and behaviours,” Jiménez adds.

Respect the environment

In short,” says Jiménez, “it is about respecting the environment in which the marine life lives.” This can be done by following guidelines such as those established by the blue boat seal. But, it’s also important that visitors think about their own behaviour. It is vital that rubbish is not thrown into the beautiful waters of the Canary Islands. With the help of good regulation and responsible tourism, cetacean watching in the waters around the Canary Islands can be enjoyed for many years to come.


For further information please contact Niamh Waters, email or call +353 86 0492394