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History and context
The Canary Islands comprise an autonomous region of Spain, located in the Atlantic Ocean roughly 100 km west of Morocco. The seven main islands and various smaller islands and islets are classified as one of the outermost regions of the European Union. While the permanent population of the islands is estimated at around 2 million inhabitants, an estimated 12 million tourists visit the islands each year, generating 32% of the region’s GDP1.
Whale-watching occurs year round in all the islands. The main areas of activity overlap with areas protected through the European Union Natura 2000 Network.
During 2008- 2018, there was an overall growth in whale watching activity. Following an uncertain period during the economic crisis, changes were seen in the type of vessel being used (with a reduction in the number of larger vessels) and the type of excursion (with a move to shorter, lower-price excursions).
Estimates for 2008 suggested a total of 625,000 whale watching visitors in the Canary Islands. Ticket price varies substantially, ranging from €6 to €60 depending on the trip duration and type. In 2008, a total of 37 vessels were licensed for whale watching operations in the Canary Islands, with a major part of the industry is concentrated in the island of Tenerife: approximately 70% of the vessels, 65% of the operator business and 75% of the passenger carrying capacity.
By the end of 2018, 111 whale watching vessels were licensed to operate throughout the archipelago, comprising 82 companies spread over 16 ports. Total passenger capacity is 3,951 places. There are another five boats and another port for which authorisation is underway.
Whale watching data for the Canary Islands 2018
Nº WW Enterprises
*In Tenerife another 5 boats are waiting for authorisation
Tourism on Tenerife
Of the seven main islands, Tenerife is the most popular tourist destination, receiving an estimated 5 million tourists per year, with a booming tourism industry and well-established infrastructure to accommodate tourists, the majority of whom come from Northern or Central Europe (including 35% from Britain, and 11 % from Germany)1.
Up to 22 species of cetaceans can be seen off the south-west coast of Tenerife, making it an important location for whale watching. This area is home to populations of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorinchus), which can be seen year round, and several species of turtles2.
The rich biodiversity of this area and the need to preserve it has been recognised by the EU, which has included it in the Natura 2000 Network as the Teno-Rasca Marine Strip.
Tourism is the main activity on Tenerife. It attracted 5.7 million tourists in 2017, generating 4,305 million euros. Whale watching is one of the main products, being the second most popular activity among tourists (724 thousand tourists, 12.7% of the total in 2017)3. It is also the second most popular activity in terms of direct economic impact, with estimated revenues of 26.6 million euros in 2017. 66 boats are currently authorised for this activity.