Numerous studies have quantified the impacts of tourism on marine mammals; however, few studies have investigated tour operators' procedures and their compliance with regulations and guidelines. This study quantifies operator compliance with NOAA guidelines, examines the structure of tour educational programs, and investigates dolphin behavior during encounters between tour vessels and bottlenose dolphins in Clearwater, Florida. During 45 encounters, operators adhered to the guidelines approximately 60% of the time. Operators complied with the viewing time limit but failed to end encounters when dolphins exhibited potential disturbance behaviors. Operators approached dolphins within the 50-yard distance limit and used inappropriate techniques to maneuver around dolphins. The educational programs were unstructured and lacked critical components of effective interpretation programs. Considering these findings, we make suggestions for ways to improve educational programs, increase compliance, and minimize the impacts of tour vessels on dolphins.
Tourism in Marine Environments is an interdisciplinary journal dealing with a variety of management issues in marine settings. It is a scientific journal that draws upon the expertise of academics and practitioners from various disciplines related to the marine environment, including tourism, marine science, geography, social sciences, psychology, environmental studies, economics, marketing, and many more.