From origami whale campaigns to Mr. Splashy Pants, it's pretty obvious that those big, intelligent and lovable cetaceans are massively popular. And according to a recent report focusing on the phenomenal growth of whale-watching in Latin America, watching whales (as opposed to killing them) could have a much greater economic benefit to local communities and governments worldwide. However, the report also highlights the fact that standards and regulations are greatly needed to make the industry sustainable.Report: "The State of Whale Watching in Latin America"
The joint report (PDF here) by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Global Ocean, and the Whales and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) charts the development of what began as small-time entrepreneurial ventures in parts of Latin America, to a multi-million dollar business. Whale-watching in this region now involves eighteen Latin American countries, almost a million tourists, some 780 operators and 64 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Worldwide, it is estimated that whale tourism brings in $1 billion a year.
Compared to general tourism in Latin America, the growth of whale-watching grew 4.7 times as much during the same 8-year period, from 1998 to 2006. It is estimated that 886,000 people participated in whale watching tours in Latin America in 2006 and spent $278 million. A million tourists are expected this year.
Whaling industry "out of touch"
The report, titled "The State of Whale Watching in Latin America," was presented to the 60th International Whaling Committee (IWC) conference in late June, as over 70 countries gathered in Santiago, Chile to discuss future directions of the whaling industry.
The report's findings are a welcome boost to global marine conservation efforts, challenging the pro-whaling stance that whale-watching is not as profitable, despite the recent collapse of the global market for whale meat.
"This is a timely reminder of the potential for the whale watching industry to provide a sustainable and long lasting income not only in Latin America, but for hundreds of coastal communities around the world. Responsible whale watching offers substantial, diverse community benefits compared to the narrowly focused, out-of-touch whaling industry," said Erich Hoyt of the WDCS and one of the report's authors.
Can whale tourism be more sustainable?
But it's clear that the industry has a long way to go in establishing legal policies for conservation, regulations, scientific monitoring and educating the local communities involved. Some concerns include the possibility that the growing number of whale-watching tour operations worldwide could disrupt migration routes and other behaviours.
To promote sustainable methods of whale tourism, countries like Uruguay have responded to these concerns by launching certification programs that give operators, hotels and restaurants with good environmental practices a seal of approval.
Says Argentine whale tour operator Ricardo Orri: "The key is that whale watching is done in a cautious way: that the government always has the authority to ban the practice, and that the providers of the services are more committed to conservation than to their own business."
Related Links On Whaling and Whale Conservation
The State of Whale Watching in Latin America Report (PDF)
Iceland Calls the Whale Thing Off
Greenwash Watch: "Eat Whale and Save the Planet"
Send An Origami Whale From Greenpeace
Greenpeace Activists Arrested for Stealing Whale Meat in Japan
High-Stakes Duel on the Sea Pits Environmental Ships Against Japanese Whalers