In October 2012, Sea Shepherd Brazil was informed of a situation involving the abuse of Southern Right Whales off the coast of Santa Catarina (a state located in the southern region of Brazil) and within the Southern Right Whale Environmental Protection Area (APA).
Sea Shepherd dispatched volunteers from the Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul chapters to investigate the report. The volunteers were able to obtain evidence of illegal activities on part of the whale watching operators by going aboard whale watching boats operated by tour agencies in Garopaba. The footage they gathered included boats breaking the 100-meter distance required, tour guides encouraging tourists to touch the whales, and even an instance where a calf was rammed. Sea Shepherd Brazil immediately filed a complaint to Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), the government agency responsible for overseeing whale watching activities, and requested a list of measures that would be taken to protect the whales in the 72 hours following the receipt of the report. ICMBio was also informed that Sea Shepherd Brazil would take the matter to court if the breaches weren’t dealt with in a timely manner.
Sea Shepherd Brazil acknowledges that whale watching tours valuable educational and conservation tools that offer great economic benefits to local communities and bring people together in a mutual respect for the oceans. Therefore, our objective in taking this case to court would not be to stop the tours, but rather to protect the welfare of the Southern Right Whales and their young by ensuring these local operations are performed responsibly and within the boundaries of the law.
Sea Shepherd Brazil is also working to introduce new regulations into the current whale watching management plan so Sea Shepherd no longer has to enforce Brazilian legislation for cetaceans. Although the Southern Right Whale’s APA, covering the cities of Garopaba, Laguna and Imbituba on the south coast of Santa Catarina, was created in September 2000, there were no corresponding plans to manage this protected area.
Before tour agencies began whale watching and other operations within the Southern Right Whale’s APA, ICMBio permitted a range of potentially environmentally unsound activities to be performed without licensing or studies. Sea Shepherd Brazil filed a civil action lawsuit requiring the government to scale-up its enforcement of cetacean protection laws, and to intervene in dubious activities until rules and environmental impact studies could be established in the region.
The federal courts granted an injunction suspending whale watching at sea, stating that whale watching vessels, operating on the boundaries of the Southern Right Whale’s APA and its buffer zone continue to pose potential danger as the impact of these activities remains unknown. The judge added that it was prudent to immediately suspend Southern Right Whale watching aboard vessels, with or without propellers, on the boundaries of the Southern Right Whale’s APA and its buffer zone in Garopaba, Imbituba and Laguna until an assessment into the environmental practicability of the activity in this region has been assessed, and environmental licensing has been established.
“We think this is a great opportunity to really have a sustainable and an environmentally responsible tourism industry. The opportunity to build something that is really positive for marine animals and human beings is on the table,” said Wendell Estol, Director of Sea Shepherd Brazil.
Luiz André Albuquerque, Legal Coordinator for Sea Shepherd Brazil, reiterated that “Sea Shepherd Brazil's role in monitoring whale watching tourism off the Brazilian coast is important due to our knowledge of security rules, specifically in regards to laws protecting cetaceans. The absence of any environmental impact studies on tourism activity inside the Southern Right Whale Environmental Protection Area and its buffer zone was another determining factor for granting the injunction.”
Renata Fortes, attorney for Sea Shepherd Brazil, added, “Brazil should be aware of the global trend to ban whale watching tourism in closed coves, especially when it comes to endangered Southern Right Whales. Unbelievably, one of the companies that used to operate in these areas has admitted to breaking the law to ensure tourist and vessel security.”