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In the absence of guidelines or government regulation for a rapidly expanding industry, dolphin watching operators in Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia, formulated and adopted a voluntary code of conduct in 1996. This code was designed to reduce perceived pressures on dolphins and was updated to conform to the Australian National Guidelines for Cetacean Observation when they were released in 2000. Compliance to this code of conduct was assessed in a shore-based survey over the austral summer of 2002/03. Operator compliance was generally high for: number of dolphin watching boats per dolphin school; time spent by individual operators with dolphins; method of approach to dolphins; and frequency of cruises conducted per day. However, operators did not discriminate between dolphin schools containing calves and those that did not (equating to a breach of the national guidelines) and three of nine regular operators committed most breaches of the code, particularly with regard to boat-handling around dolphins and frequency of cruises conducted per day. The code’s aim in reducing exposure of dolphins to boats was not achieved as dolphin schools were subject to consecutive approaches by numerous boats and interactions also involved boats to which the code did not apply. This voluntary code is thus of limited value without revision, education and enforcement. The inability of a voluntary code to manage the number of operators and other watercraft highlights the need for management alternatives that will increase compliance by all users of the waterways. Furthermore, widespread assessments of compliance are necessary, particularly where assessments of the effects of cetacean-based tourism are being conducted. To determine whether identified impacts are a result of inappropriate management strategies, or non-compliance with suitable management, requires that management strategies are tested while simultaneously testing or ensuring compliance.
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