Tenerife Cetacean Research

Project Goals 

To establish a long term cetacean monitoring programme studying abundance and distribution, habitat use and effect of boat encounters on behaviour of individuals. Frontier is working towards finding solutions that focus on the interaction between tourists and cetaceans and also to influence national guidelines on cetacean watching tourism increasing regulation on such activities.


Project location

Guargacho, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain



Cetacean observation on land (coastal surveys) or sea. (Boat surveys are conducted aboard accredited ethical whale & dolphin watching vessels). Community outreach and educational activities, which include: preparing presentations at local schools and hotels communicating our research and informing tourists and residents on ethical whale and dolphin watching practises and educating on Frontier’s conservation efforts to protect cetaceans. Organising beach cleans, which are a popular and effective way to have a direct, positive environmental impact in our local area. Both locals and tourists have expressed their gratitude to our staff and volunteers the work done.


The Canary Current and the coastal upwelling from the African coast promote wide marine biodiversity in the Canary Islands. Such biodiversity includes 730 native fish species, four species of marine turtles and twenty-eight cetacean species. Although most of the cetacean species are migrant or seasonal, some of them are resident in the Archipelago. This is the case for short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) and bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). This biodiversity has provided a unique opportunity for a multimillion dollar ecotourism industry to develop in Tenerife. Short-finned pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins are the main attraction for ecotourists to the Canary Islands, hence the whale watching industry in the South of Tenerife. Tenerife accounts for 58% of all whale watching companies and 75% of the whale watching tourists in the Canary Islands. In an effort to control and minimise any negative effects of these ecotourism activities, a Code of Conduct has been set out in the Canary Islands for whale watching boats to follow and a specific flag is flown by those who adhere to this Code of Conduct. The industry has grown exponentially in recent years, with last year’s revenue numbers worldwide at $2 billion in 2009 and was expected at that time to grow by as much as 10% every year. This has led to blurred lines between tourism and disruption as many international Codes of Conduct for viewing the species have been breached. External disturbances can have great impacts on the stress levels of both captive and wild animals, and it is vital to be able to identify ways to measure their welfare. This is especially important in the case of scientific investigations of vulnerable species. There have been several papers that indicate a significant correlation between behaviour and stress. The aims of this project are to look for solutions to several problems with the local cetacean tourism industry. There are national guidelines in place but these are poorly regulated and it has led to several issues including jet skis approaching whales and dolphins, people trying to swim with dolphins, or unaccredited whale-watching boats causing disturbance to the cetaceans. The current project objective that works towards achieving this aim is to establish a long-term cetacean monitoring programme studying abundance and distribution of cetaceans, habitat use of different species, effect of boat encounters on behaviour and the effect of group composition on cetacean behaviour during encounters.


Project Partners & Staff

Asociacion Oceano Sostenible

Our Tenerife field team is comprised of a Project Coordinator, Field Communications Officer, several Research Officers and a team of Voluntary Research Assistants.