Sustainable whale-watching tourism or vulnerable "wild west" in the sea: The management and perceptions of different whale-watching actors in the Tromsø and Skjervøy regions
Winter whale-watching tourism has gained increasing popularity in Northern Norway during the last ten years after orcas and humpback whales appeared in the Tromsø and Skjervøy regions. However, this form of tourism activity has become a controversial topic during the most recent seasons. This study set out to investigate whether whale-watching tourism could potentially contribute to the conservation of cetaceans, thereby contributing to making whalewatching an ethical and responsible tourism activity in Northern Norway, or on the other hand, whether irresponsible behaviors and lack of proper regulations could bring humans and the watched whales into a vulnerable predicament. This research aimed to present an interdisciplinary assessment of whale-watching tourism in Northern Norway based upon the Ecotourism management and assessment framework while evaluating the ecological impacts and practices of existing whale-watching tourism according to International Whaling Commission’s general principles for whalewatching. Building on this, the study assesses the vulnerability of whale-watching tourism in the Skjervøy and Tromsø regions by adopting the PAR (Pressure and Release) model. Based on a qualitative analysis of existing written materials and literature as secondary data, and interviews as primary data, my findings have identified key actors’ engagement, understanding, and expectations of Northern Norway whale-watching tourism. Firstly, the long-term and sustainable benefits of whale-watching tourism were found to be limited due to local communities not having adequate access to data, power, and structure to monitor and regulate this tourism activity. Furthermore, certain whale-watching operations and practices in these regions were found to be unethical and irresponsible. Concurrent whale-watching tourism was thus concluded to be unlikely to contribute to the conservation of the watched cetacean species as long as only a small portion of operators were involved. Finally, the lack of adequate regulations and institutions to ensure more ethical and responsible development of this tourism activity was deduced to pose potential causes of hazardous incidents with possible casualties of tourists, while simultaneously increasing risks against the future sustainable growth of whale-watching tourism activity in Northern Norway.