Student’s experience with wild dolphins leads to international whale watching role

A PhD student who worked for 7 years with wild dolphins in Mozambique has been chosen as the new lead of an international whale watching group.

Diana Rocha has been elected as chair for the World Cetacean Alliance’s Responsible Whale Watching Working Group after her experience working with Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins at the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve.

It was during her final year there that Diana completed a MSc on Coastal and Marine Resource Management at Portsmouth and is now studying for a PhD on cetacean based tourism.

Diana Rocha said: “Half of my time was spent with tourists in swim with dolphins programs, and the other half with data entry and other projects such as beach clean-ups and turtle monitoring.

“While with the clients I learned how little most of them knew of what a dolphin swim meant. For many it was simply something else to do while on holidays. I then realised how important a structured tour and briefing with adequate content was to manage their expectations and reduce pressure on both dolphins and the staff.

“I also witnessed private recreational boats, kayaks, jet skis and swimmers attempting to approach marine mammals unaware of the risks and impacts that they could have. Another issue was the low compliance to the guidelines by authorised and unauthorised operators. It became clear to me that all involved lacked knowledge and guidance was required.”

Diana’s experience in Mozambique, her studies at Portsmouth and her new role as chair of the Whale Watching Working Group will help her establish a global accreditation program for tour guides to achieve responsible whale watching standards.

She added: “I am very honoured and excited with the possibilities of this position as it links so well with my PhD work.”

Diana is being supervised by Dr Jonathan Potts (Department of Geography), Dr Ben Drakeford (Department of Economics) and Dr Michelle Hale (School of Earth and Environmental Science). Jonathan Potts, said: “It’s really good to see Diana back as a PhD researcher as she is a recent graduate (with Distinction) from the Department of Geography’s long running and well respected MSc in Coastal and Marine Resource Management. Diana’s research area is really topical and comes at a time when ocean and coastal impacts are really high on the political and public agendas – especially after the success of Blue Planet II.”

Our Faculty of Science are offering a number of funded PhD opportunities. With PhD projects looking at ‘Vessel collisions with large whales’, ‘Restoring degraded ecosystems’, ‘Nutrient resources in a future ocean’ and many more, our researchers will inspire you to innovate and solve problems that matter.

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