IFAW envisions a world in which whales are seen and not hurt. More and more people are experiencing the thrill of watching whales, dolphins and porpoises in the wild. Whale watching is a fast-growing industry in coastal communities worldwide that is encouraging people to protect whales and their habitats, supporting developing economies and providing local employment.

Whale watching is estimated to generate two billion US dollars annually, with 13 million people going whale watching each year in 119 countries. Whale watching is a ‘use’ of whales that generates far more money than whaling, notably in the whaling countries, and can be genuinely sustainable.

IFAW first began supporting responsible whale watching in 1980 and carries out an extensive program of work, covering many technical aspects of the subject. We also work within countries – including Japan, Iceland and Norway — to help ensure whale watching is conducted sensitively, that the educational opportunities are maximized and that suitable scientific research is conducted. Thanks in part to IFAW’s efforts, the International Whaling Commission has begun taking whale watching very seriously in recent years, assessing its scientific, economic and habitat protection aspects.

IFAW works with communities in more than 26 countries, partnering with government, local whale-watch operators, scientists and the public, to promote responsible whale watching activities. This work includes: scientific research and internships; socio-political, economic, educational, legal and administrative studies; operator and guide training; educational programs; the development of whale watch guidelines and regulations; and the establishment of national and regional whale sanctuaries. Over the years IFAW has conducted around a dozen whale watching workshops on various aspects of the issue and in various regions as well as feasibility studies in Iceland, Norway and Japan to examine potential for growth of this community endeavor within the whaling nations. 

IFAW has participated in local whale watching conferences since the 1990s and organized two international whale watching conferences which were held in Japan in 2004 and 2010. Following the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, IFAW leveraged foundation funding and other external support to assist individual whale watch operators directly affected by the tsunami to provide small, capacity building grants to other operators around the country. These efforts have resulted in stronger coordination among Japanese whale and dolphin watching operators, an increasingly vocal group of stakeholders promoting a positive, alternative “use” of whales with meaningful economic benefits to coastal communities around Japan.

In Iceland, IFAW has offered assistance in many ways to encourage the development of responsible whale watching, funding several economic studies examining the costs of whaling. We also sent Song of the Whale to Iceland during several summers, most recently 2012, using acoustics and photo-identification to study live whales and the impacts whale watching may have upon them.

IFAW has been running a “Meet Us Don't Eat Us” campaign in Iceland since 2010 working on the ground to encourage foreign visitors not to eat whale meat. Close to 33,000 postcards signed by visitors and Icelanders pledging to not eat whale meat were delivered to the Government and many Icelandic restaurants are now displaying support for the campaign. In Brussels, IFAW has been working to ensure that the EU stands firm in insisting that whaling by Iceland must not be allowed if Iceland were to join the EU.

Together these efforts have supported development of a constituency of pro-whale tourism operators within Iceland who challenge the whaling industry and are speaking out in favor of whales, and it is this internal voice which is crucial to changing the hearts and minds of Icelanders and their decision makers. IFAW is working to replicate this model with a growing effort and campaign in Norway, building upon the success and relationships we have formed in Iceland.

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