What is Collaborative Whale-Watching and Wildlife Viewing?

Photo of man hugging gray whale in San Ignacio Bay courtesy of Marc Uhlig of Jupiter Labs. Biologist Toni Frohoff has a new way see whales and other wildlife: collaborative watching. That’s right: she wants us to work with whales so we all get something out of the experience. Instead of just being stalkers, we’d interact on mutually agreeable terms. What Frohoff, research director at TerraMar Research and the Trans-Species Institute of Learning, is proposing is an overhaul of eco-tourism standards. She wants the whales (and other animals) to be in on it, to collaborate with the humans that want to watch them.Sound impossible? Well, she does it all the time with gray whales in Baja California. As a behavioral biologist she made an appearance in the much-discussed New York Times Magazine story Watching Whales Watching Us. The gray whales migrate up and down the west coast, seemingly indifferent to humans, but once they reach their nursery harbors off Baja, they suddenly become curious about people. That’s even more remarkable since people once slaughtered whales here–so much so the species was almost wiped out. But now they’ve realized people–or at least the people in these harbors–aren’t throwing harpoons, they are offering hugs.

Photo of whale near row boat courtesy of FarFlungPhotos and Tarnya Hall.What do the whales get out of it? For reasons no one can explain, they seem really into it, coming up to boats curiously and seeking out interaction, not just tolerating it.

What the whales can

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