Around the world, more and more people are experiencing the thrill of watching whales, dolphins and porpoises in the wild.

Whale watching is a fast growing industry that is encouraging people to protect whales and their habitats, supporting developing economies and providing local employment.

The growth of whale watching

From the frigid northern waters of Iceland to the tropical isles of the South Pacific, the popularity of whale watching has grown around the world.

Between 1991 and 2008, the number of whale watchers grew from 4 million to 13 million, making it one of the fastest developing tourism industries.

Interestingly, this growth is fastest in some of the most important areas for whale conservation, including Asia and Oceania, where the debate over Japan's supposedly scientific whaling is ongoing. As Japan's neighbours begin to see more profit from whale watching, they are becoming more active opponents to whale hunting.

Impact of whale watching on local communities

Although whale watching is part of the global tourism industry, it has the greatest effect on local communities.

Not only does the industry support local businesses, but it brings with it a sense of identity and cultural pride, helping to foster an appreciation for the marine environment.

Promoting sustainable whale watching

When whale watching is managed responsibly, it can support local economies and whale conservation together.

To help ensure the whale watching industry is managed sustainably, IFAW is leading a number of projects that promote responsible whale watching, including:

  • Assessing the potential for whale watching through research on whale distribution patterns from IFAW's research vessel, Song of the Whale.
  • Working with governments and tourist industries to analyse the regional potential for whale watching to ensure they are based on responsible whale watching regulations.
  • Producing and distributing educational materials on whales and coordinating research protocols and projects associated with whale watching.
  • Conducting seminars, operator-training workshops and information-exchange meetings to promote the whale watching industry and ensure minimal disturbance to whales.

Thanks in part to our work, commercial and recreational whale watching is now recognised by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and other international authorities as a potentially "sustainable use" of whales and other cetaceans.