Conservation Hub: The Added Value of the Whale-Watching Industry
ecotourism; marine tourism; whale research
Nature-based tourism activities are often sold as ‘ecotourism’, yet not all are educational, environmentally friendly, provide economic benefits to local communities, nor help achieve conservation goals. Whale-watching has the potential for ecotourism due to opportunities for supporting cetacean research, environmental education, and community engagement. Whalesafari, the first whale-watching company in the Arctic, is based in Norway and combines whale-watching with research, interpretation, and benefits for the local community. Researchers from around the world have carried out research on several aspects of sperm whales (the main target species), from abundance to diving behaviour, as well as other species. Tourists learn about cetaceans during a guided experience in the company’s museum before the trip. This whale-watching model has attracted over 350,000 tourists over the years, benefiting the local community (e.g., hotels, restaurants, other attractions). Tourism and whale research can establish synergistic relationships, involving several agents and promoting research careers, while at the same time leading to innovative advances in the ecology and tourism fields. Here, we summarise over 30 years of whale-watching eco-tourism activities and research in Northern Norway, highlighting synergistic examples and the opportunities opened through linking marine tourism and research.