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Study proves that responsible whale watching can save the planet

WDC has released the first study that documents the long term conservation benefits that may result from responsible whale watching. 

The report, “Whale Watching: More than Meets the Eyes”, documents the responses of more than 1,000 passengers who recently boarded whale watching vessels in Massachusetts in the US.

While previous studies have focused on the economic benefits of commercial whale watching, this survey study set out to determine whether the information a passenger received during a whale watch trip made them any more aware of the ocean’s vulnerability and, as a result, increased their awareness of how their own behaviour impacts the marine environment. Participants were also asked if specific vessel operational guidelines and training programmes were considered important to them. 

The results showed that, in general, whale watchers did not appear to know how to support the conservation of marine mammals like whales before their tour started. However, a significant change was observed after the trip, where respondents indicated they had become more aware of how to conservation efforts, and were also more worried about the health of the marine environment following their trip. 

Whale watchers also believed that their own decisions, like the use of household cleaning products, can negatively affect the marine environment.

“The results demonstrate that whale watching, conducted responsibly, can impact a person’s awareness in the long term” said Michel Harms, author of the report. “Our results also show that empowering passengers to take action results in a greater sense of satisfaction after the tour ends.”

According to the survey, the most important aspect of the trip to the whale watchers was having the boat maintain a safe distance from the whales and knowing that the boat was following guidelines.

Knowing that those conducting the trip had received specialised whale watch training was also considered to be very important to survey participants.

“We can now say that responsibly watching whales in the wild has the potential to benefit the planet through increasing one’s awareness of marine conservation,” said Vanessa Williams-Grey, WDC responsible whale watching programme lead.  “This survey confirms our need to support programs like Whale SENSE, which recognizes commercial whale watching companies committed to a higher standard of whale watching.”

The 114 page report was conducted as part of a graduate project through the North American office of Whale and Dolphin Conservation and was funded by a grant from NOAA’s Fisheries Northeast Region Program Office, Award Number NA11NMF4720240.  Download a copy of the report.

About George Berry

George is a member of WDC's Communications team and website coordinator.