The Values of Whale Watching in Iceland: A Personal Reflection

Despite the term, whale watching encompasses viewing all cetacean species, such as dolphins or porpoises, and not just whales from boat tours. 

Sometimes, listening to or swimming with cetaceans also falls under whale watching. These commercial boat tours allow passengers to view cetaceans for recreational purposes. But even though whale watching is mostly known for its recreational and commercial appeal, it offers distinct socio-economic, educational, research, and conservational values. 

This article will focus on discussing these diverse values of whale watching to highlight the scientific significance of this activity. It’ll also feature authentic data and information in this context. 

What Are The Different Values Of Whale Watching?

Socio-Economic Values 

Several studies have been conducted in around 144 maritime countries to understand the impact of whale watching on the local economy and employment opportunities in these nations. 

A study from 2008 showed that 3,000 whale watching sites worldwide were responsible for employing around 13,200 people. Depending on the viewing of resident and migratory species, these whale watching operations created both permanent and seasonal employment. 

Another study from 2010 suggests that an additional 5,700 jobs worth $413 million could be created if new countries introduce whale watching activities. If this happens, the total economic benefits from whale watching could reach over $2.5 billion annually while supporting around 19,000 jobs worldwide. 

Whale watching can diversify and expand the income sources of local fishermen in developing coastal countries. The socio-economic benefits of whale watching have transformed the livelihoods of several communities and regions across the US, New Zealand, Canada, Argentina, Japan, Australia, Norway, and Ireland, among others. 

Due to whale watching, Ecuador experienced massive socio-economic growth in its tourism sector. The country’s yearly visitors increased from 3,000 during the early 1990s to 30,000 in 2008 after the introduction of humpback whale watching in 1994. Moreover, the number of whale watching operations in Ecuador increased from 7 to 22 between 1994 and 2008, creating more job opportunities and boosting the local economy. 

Educational Values

The educational aspect of whale watching is arguably its most important value. It imparts knowledge about ocean life while educating people about these magnificent creatures. Additionally, it helps people of all ages and backgrounds appreciate and understand the significance of marine mammals in maintaining the balance of the ocean ecosystem. 

A common thing people learn from whale watching is about the natural habitat of these cetacean mammals. All whale watching operations offer informative brochures and pamphlets to the visitors to educate them about marine creatures and make it an excellent learning experience. People can also know about the behavioral patterns of animals in their natural ocean environment. 

Tourists also gain knowledge about other wildlife, geographical features, and coastal cultures of a region and how local people coexist with marine animals. They can learn about the history and development of whale watching in that area while gathering knowledge on ecotourism and adventure travel.

Visitors receive further information about the conservation efforts put forth to protect the natural habitats of these cetacean mammals. Through whale watching, they can develop a deep understanding of the local environment, history, and culture. So, it can be an educational experience where visitors learn to appreciate the beauty and wonders of nature. 

It is even possible to include whale watching as part of the academic curriculum and encourage workshop participants to realize the importance of nature and wildlife.

Research-Based Values 

Whale watching offers enormous research opportunities to scientists, especially those working in the field of natural sciences. Students pursuing higher academic degrees can also apply the information gathered from whale watching to conduct research in multiple disciplines, including oceanography, cetology, conservation biology, and marine ecology. 

Several research-based studies have already been conducted on whale watching, including behavioral studies, acoustic studies, research on conservation and population biology, and habitat and distribution, to name a few. That said, studies revolving around the impacts of whale watching are arguably the most important to determine how this affects the animals and how to minimize possible disturbances. 

Further, research on whale watching management helps promote sustainable whale watching operations using scientific data. This activity also offers excellent scope for conducting research in the tourism sector of a region and studying its socio-economic development because of whale watching. 

Social studies involving the tourists can help gain in-depth knowledge regarding the economic aspects of whale watching. These studies have been helpful in identifying the demographics and interests of people participating in whale watching. Thus, such research-based information can be effective in the development and management of the global whale watching industry. 

Conservational Values 

Whale watching helps in the protection and conservation of the entire marine ecosystem, along with the cetacean mammals. Research surrounding the natural habitats of these species can contribute to conservation efforts. 

The activity can influence the opinions of passengers on the importance of environmental conservation. So, visitors who have viewed these magnificent creatures in their natural habitats might be more inclined to play an active role in protecting the marine ecosystem. 

Since whale watching offers excellent socio-economic benefits, local communities can contribute directly to conservational efforts to protect their income sources. 

For instance, in 2004, proper conservation and management created 200 direct job opportunities surrounding whale watching operations at Samadai reef, Egypt. It is evident that the conservation of the marine environment and these cetacean species can hugely benefit the livelihoods of people in coastal countries. 

Final Thoughts 

Whale watching isn’t just a tourist activity and comes with a wide array of benefits and advantages. The socio-economic values of whale watching are arguably the most essential in transforming the livelihoods of people. 

That said, educational and research-based values are equally crucial for understanding more about these cetacean mammals. At the same time, learning about conservation values widens the scope to protect these magnificent animals and their natural marine habitats. 

Gaining much-needed insight into these values help understand why sustainable whale watching is so heavily supported and encouraged, despite certain adverse impacts on the animals and the environment. 

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