There are many reasons why people love whale watching – from the chance to be on or by the sea to the opportunity to be humbled in the presence of a truly massive animal. These experiences are valuable not only in supporting the economy of the communities in which they take place, but, when done also have a large conservation and educational value.
How does whale watching benefit conservation?
As a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, I had the opportunity to study the conservation benefits of whale watching in Juneau, Alaska. After surveying whale watching passengers before, after, and six-months after their whale watching trip, the responses indicated that people who go on whale watching trips come away with a greater understanding of whales and are more likely to support protection of these species.
For more reasons, consider these responses to Why is whale watching important? by Whale SENSE naturalists from Bar Harbor Whale Watching Company:
There are several benefits to whale watching. I can think of four important ones:
Teaching a captive audience about the importance of a healthy ecosystem and the presence of several visible species.
The economic impact of a whale watching business in a community. The people who visit a location with the intention of going out on a guided ecotour may also be willing to spend locally in restaurants, hotels, gift shops, etc.
A community with successful ecotourism businesses invests in keeping their environment as clean as possible.
The possibility of collaborating alongside academic institutions to conduct research for the benefit of a broad scientific community is a win-win situation for many parties: the business, the paying customers, the crew involved, the scientists, students interested in pursuing a marine mammalogy career, etc.
For countries with emerging economies, the possibilities of participating in the international scientific conversation are growing every day. The activities that are proving to be successful in the US can be replicated and benefit many little places that need the scientific knowledge and the workable business model.
“We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. And touch. And hear.”Richard Louv, Author of Last Child in the Woods
When people experience whales in their natural habitat they become more connected with them. More connection, more motivation to protect and respect them.
When we identify individual humpbacks, for example, this helps tell a story and deepens the connection. People hold on to these experiences and truly cherish them. I find whale watching an incredibly humbling experience for people of all ages. Even the time and effort it takes to find them is an important lesson.
Quote from a passenger: “To this day I remember it as one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.”
Why is it important to responsibly watch whales?
The presence of vessels does not go unnoticed by whales as we visit their ocean homes. Another study from my graduate research indicated that whales can change their movement and behavior in the presence of vessels. Therefore, when whale watching, it is important to reduce vessel impact as much as possible. There are guidelines and regulations that are in place in each region to protect whales and help boaters avoid disturbing these individuals. By booking with a responsible whale watching company, such as those that participate in Whale SENSE, you can enjoy all the benefits of whale watching, while also ensuring that you are reducing your possible impact!
Feature Image (c) Brian Lockwood