Whale-watching worth billions and booming: Study

Whale-watching revenue topped USD 2bn in 2009 and could grow by 10% annually.

Agadir (Morocco): Whale-watching revenue
topped USD two billion in 2009 and could easily grow by 10 per
cent annually over the next few years, according to a new

The first peer-reviewed assessment of whale tourism`s
global value boosts economic arguments that the marine mammals
are worth more alive than dead, the researchers said.

Published this week, the study coincides with a decision
on Thursday by the 88-nation International Whaling Commission
(IWC), meeting in Agadir, Morocco, to move forward with a
"five year strategic plan" to explore both the economic
benefits and ecological risks of whale-watching.

Some 13 million eco-tourists in 2009 paid to see the
animals in their natural element, generating USD 2.1 billion
and employing 13,000 people across hundreds of coastal regions
worldwide, the study found.

"We can have our whales and still benefit from them,
without killing them," said co-author Rashid Sumaila, a
researcher at the University of British Columbia.

Whale tourism has expanded steadily over the last two
decades. Continuing at the same pace would add more than USD
400 million and 5,700 jobs to the global economy each year,
said the study, published in the Britain-based journal Marine

"Given our methods of calculation, this is a conservative
estimate. The real figures are probably much higher," Sumaila
said by phone.

At least half of this growth would benefit seaside
communities in developing countries, especially in the
Caribbean, Latin America and Africa, where many fisheries are
in decline.

"It can be launched with little initial investment and
carried out by local fishers who are already familiar with
the area," the study noted.

Whaling countries have argued that watching whales and
killing them are not necessarily incompatible when populations
are robust and expanding.

Indeed, the study found that every year half-a-million
people ply the coastal waters of whaling nations in the hope
of glimpsing a humpback, orca or other whale if full breach.