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Whale Watching in Cape Ann, Massachusetts.
Photo: Courtesy of Cynde Bierman

March 27, 2002
"The Economic Value of Whales in their Live State: Part III"
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This is Roger Payne speaking to you from aboard the Odyssey.

Between 1994 and 1998 the fastest growing whale watch industry for any country in the world was Taiwan's. It went from zero to about 30,000 whale watchers in those four years. During the same period, the next four highest rates of increase were Italy (140 % per year), Spain (124 % per year) and South Africa (113 % per year), while one of the major whaling nations, Iceland, had an average annual increase in whale watching of over 250 %. This latter fact means that the Icelandic whale watch industry has grown at one of the highest rates ever recorded. In 1994 only 200 people from one Icelandic community went whale watching; but by 1998, there were 30,330 embarking from eight communities.

I am afraid that I am unable to resist crowing a little over this last statistic; for in the mid 1980s I was invited to Iceland to give a lecture to Icelanders about whale watching. I emphasized in my talk that whales might be worth more to Iceland alive than dead. My reason for going was to try to get someone, an Icelandic fisherman perhaps, anyone, to start a whale watch industry. I pointed out that it would almost certainly prosper because Iceland is one of the closest places to mainland Europe where you can count on seeing whales, and there are very few whales left in most European waters, but lots of Europeans willing to pay to see whales. My Icelandic audience was heavily packed with the whaling crowd, and was the most hostile I've ever faced.

At the end of it a member of the Icelandic parliament and a champion of whaling, leapt to his feet and shouted at me, saying that I had no idea what I was talking about-that starting a whale watch industry in Iceland was, to use his words; "The stupidest idea I have ever heard of."

That sounded to me like a great motto for promoting a whale watch industry in Iceland so when I got home I designed a poster-it was a picture of a breaching whale, across which was written in large letters: "Go Whale Watching in Iceland!" and down below in much smaller letters: "That is the stupidest idea I have ever heard of, signed Blank Blankson (we'll call him), member of the Icelandic Parliament.

It took several years until some enterprising Icelander got an industry going there but as Hoyt has shown, it has prospered far beyond even my most optimistic expectations. (And just think: when Icelanders really decide to make their whale watch industry take off they can always fall back on my poster.)

A Humpback Whale.
Photo: Courtesy of Judith Scott

Recent visitor surveys offer some evidence that the growth of whale watching in Iceland might not have been so rapid if the country had resumed whaling. For example: in March 1999, the marketing department of Icelandair Holidays reported cancellations of some of their holidays as a result of a motion in Iceland's parliament calling for whaling to resume as soon as possible-a further demonstration that many people recognize that whaling and whale watching cannot thrive in the same waters and on the same whale stocks.

In Japan, whale watching has grown throughout the '90s at roughly twice the average world rate. Between 1991 and 1998, it grew there by 38 % per year, so that by the end of that period 102,785 people (the vast majority of them Japanese citizens), were spending the equivalent of nearly $33 million US to go whale and dolphin watching-that's a lot of tourists, and a lot of money, yet the 1998 tourist number is nearly double the 1994 figure; It was 55,000.

The third major whaling nation, Norway, has seen its whale watch industry grow at 18.8% a year since 1994-to 22,380 people in 1998-a group that spent more than $12 million US dollars that year. This industry is just beginning, but unless steps are taken to prevent its growth, the Norwegian whale watch industry can be expected to grow just as it has done in so many other countries and disparate cultures throughout the world.

In summary: it is no longer a matter of conjecture, it is a clear fact that people are quicker to spend money to begin watching whales than they are to spend money to begin eating whales.

"Big, beautiful, and different" are appealing. "Big, beautiful and different" sell. Bigtime

This is Roger Payne speaking to you from Western Australia off Albany where the sperm whale industry was closed in the late 70s and where whale watching for sperm whales hasn't yet begun-but it soon will begin and, I predict, that it will soon prosper.

(c) 2002 Written by Roger Payne

Links:

  • Go to Part I and Part II of "The Economic Value of Whales in their Live State"

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