Whale watching

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Watching famous whale, Ludo, at Valdes peninsula
Photo from boat showing backs of heads of 8 people and two whales surfacing in background
Whale watching off the coast of Bar Harbor, Maine
Humpback whales and California sea lions in Monterey Bay, 2013
Humpback whale and brown pelicans off Avila Beach, California

Whale watching is the practice of observing whales and dolphins (cetaceans) in their natural habitat. Whale watching is mostly a recreational activity (cf. birdwatching), but it can also serve scientific and/or educational purposes.[1] A study prepared for International Fund for Animal Welfare in 2009 estimated that 13 million people went whale watching globally in 2008. Whale watching generates $2.1 billion per annum in tourism revenue worldwide, employing around 13,000 workers.[2] The size and rapid growth of the industry has led to complex and continuing debates with the whaling industry about the best use of whales as a natural resource.


Organized whale watching started in the United States, when the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego was declared a public venue for observing the migration of gray whales; the spectacle attracted 10,000 visitors in its first year, 1950.[1] In 1955 the first water-based whale watching commenced in the same area, charging customers $1 per trip to view the whales at closer quarters.[1] The industry spread throughout the western coast of the United States over the following decade.[1]

In 1971 the Montreal Zoological Society commenced the first commercial whale watching activity on the eastern side of North America, offering trips in the St. Lawrence River to view fin and beluga whales.[1] By the mid-1970s, live captures for aquaria had reduced the orca populations in the coastal waters of British Columbia and Washington, particularly the southern resident orca population. According to their scientific chroniclers, in the 1980s commercial whale watching started becoming an alternative means of viewing and appreciating orcas.[3] In 1984, Erich Hoyt, who had spent much time amongst the orcas of British Columbia, published the first comprehensive book on whale watching, The Whale Watcher's Handbook, which Mark Carwardine called his number one "natural classic" book in BBC Wildlife magazine.[4]

By 1985 more visitors watched whales from New England than California. The rapid growth in this area has been attributed to the relatively dense population of humpback whales, whose acrobatic behavior such as breaching (jumping out of the water) and tail-slapping thrilled observers, and the close proximity of whale populations to the large cities there.[5]

Whale watching tourism has grown substantially since the mid-1980s. The first worldwide survey of whale watching was conducted by Hoyt for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) in 1992. It was updated in 1995 and submitted by the UK government to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meetings as a demonstration of the value of living whales.[5] In 1999, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) asked Hoyt for another expansion, which was published in 2001.[5] In 2009 the survey was completed by a team of economists and this report estimated that in 2008, 13 million people went whale watching, up from 9 million ten years earlier. Commercial whale watching operations were found in 119 countries. Direct revenue of whale watching trips was estimated at US$872.7 million and indirect revenue of $2,113.1 million was spent by whale watchers in tourism-related businesses.[6]

Whale watching is of particular importance to developing countries. Coastal communities have started to profit directly from the whales' presence, significantly adding to popular support for the protection of these animals from commercial whaling and other threats such as bycatch and ship strikes using the tool of marine protected areas and sanctuaries. In 2007, the Humane Society International sponsored a series of workshops to introduce whale watching to coastal Peru and commissioned Hoyt to write a blueprint for high quality, sustainable whale watching.[7] This manual, later translated into Spanish, French, Indonesian, Japanese, Chinese and Dutch, with co-sponsorship from WDCS, IFAW and Global Ocean was updated in English in 2012 in ebook form.[7]


Whale watching operator giving a talk about whales and their conservation
An example of being too close

The rapid growth of the number of whale watching trips and the size of vessel used to watch whales may affect whale behavior, migratory patterns and breeding cycles. There is now strong evidence that whale watching can significantly affect the biology and ecology of whales and dolphins.

Environmental campaigners, concerned by what they consider the "quick-buck" mentality of some boat owners, continue to strongly urge all whale watcher operators to contribute to local regulations governing whale watching (no international standard set of regulations exist because of the huge variety of species and populations). Common rules include:

  • Minimize speed/"No wake" speed
  • Avoid sudden turns
  • Minimize noise
  • Do not pursue, encircle or come in between whales
  • Approach animals from angles where they will not be taken by surprise
  • Consider cumulative impact – minimize number of boats at any one time/per day
  • Do not coerce dolphins into bow-riding.
  • Do not allow swimming with dolphins. (This last rule is more contentious and is often disregarded in, for example, the Caribbean.) In New Zealand, the rules adopted under the Marine Mammals Protection Act specifically allow swimming with dolphins and seals but not with juvenile dolphins or a pod of dolphins that includes juvenile dolphins.[8]

(Source: WDCS)

Whale watching in El Vizcaíno, with people trying to enter in contact with the animal. This practice is not recommended by most whale watchers

In Uruguay, where whales can be watched from the beach, legislators have designated the country's territorial waters as a sanctuary for whales and dolphins.[9] It is illegal to be less than 300 metres from a whale.


Whale watching tours are available in various locations and climates. By area, they are:

Atlantic and Indian oceans[edit]

South Africa[edit]

Brydes whale in False Bay, South Africa

In South Africa, the town of Hermanus is one of the world centers for whale watching. Between May and December southern right whales come so close to the Cape shoreline that visitors can watch whales from their hotels. The town employs a "whale crier" (cf town crier) to walk through the town announcing where whales have been seen.

You can watch the whales in Hermanus from the cliff tops, from a boat or the air. Boat-based whale watching tours are available out of the Hermanus New harbour which allows the public to view southern right whales from June till Mid December. Port Elizabeth runs a boat-based whale watching tour out of the Port Elizabeth harbour which allows the public to view southern right whales from July to November, humpback whales from June to August and November to January, and Bryde's whales all year round, up-close. Visitors can also see humpback whales from the lighthouse at Cape Recife (the Westerly point of Algoa Bay), and southern right whales from viewing points along the coast. Boat-based whale watching (and dolphin watching) is also a popular tourist attraction in a number of other coastal towns in South Africa, such as Plettenberg Bay, where the industry is linked to conservation and education efforts through Plettenberg Bay-based volunteer marine conservation organisations. Plettenberg Bay is visited by southern right whales in the winter months and humpback whales in the summer months. Bryde's whales are resident throughout the year.[5] The other famous centre for whale watching is False Bay. Tours leave Gordon's Bay and follow the coast around the bay. Species include southern right whales, humpback whales and Bryde's whales. Orcas are present during the winter months. Visitors include pilot whales and pygmy sperm whales. Many species of dolphin are encountered including Heaviside's dolphins. The same tours include great white sharks at Seal Island and the African Penguin Colony at Simon's Town.

Southwest Atlantic – Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay[edit]

Brydes whale breaching in Baia de Castelhanos, north of Sao Paulo, Brazil

In Brazil, humpbacks are observed off Salvador in Bahia State and at the National Marine Park of Abrolhos during their breeding season in austral winter and spring. Likewise, southern right whales are observed from shore in Santa Catarina State and Espírito Santo during the same season. Mother/calf pairs can come as close to shore as 30 meters (about 100 feet). Income from whale watching bolsters coastal communities and has made the township of Imbituba, the Brazilian "whale capital".

In Argentina, Península Valdés in Patagonia hosts (in winter) the largest breeding population of southern right whales, with more than 2,000 catalogued by the Whale Conservation Institute and Ocean Alliance.[10] The region contains six natural reserves, and is considered to be one of the premier whale watching destinations in the world, particularly around the town of Puerto Pirámides and the city of Puerto Madryn, as the whales come within 200 m (660 ft) of the main beach and play a major part in the large ecotourism industry in the region.[5]

In Uruguay, southern right whales are observable from the beach in two coastal departments – Maldonado and Rocha – from June to November.[11] The points where most sightings in Maldonado are made are Punta Colorada, Punta Negra, Playa Mansa and Punta Salinas in Punta del Este, and in Rocha off La Paloma and La Pedrera beaches.[12]

Northeast Atlantic[edit]

Tidal straits, inlets, lagoons, and varying water temperatures provide diverse habitats for multiple cetacean species. Substantial numbers live off the coasts of Great Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Scandinavia, Portugal, Spain, and France. Commercial car ferries crossing the Bay of Biscay from Britain and Ireland to Spain and France often pass by enormous blue whales and much smaller harbor porpoise. Land-based tours can often view these animals.

Off the south coast of Ireland, humpback whales and fin whales are regularly seen on organized whale watching trips between July and February. Species seen all year include minke whales, orcas, harbour porpoises, and common, bottlenose, and Risso's dolphins. There is also a resident group of bottlenose dolphins in the Shannon Estuary which attracts tourists all year round. Chanonry Point is one of the best spots in the UK to view bottlenose dolphins.[13] The dolphins are visible from the shore, particularly on an incoming tide when they play and fish in the strong currents. Other wildlife, including porpoises and grey seals, can also regularly be spotted.

In Northern Norway (Nordland and Troms) orcas are visible in the Vestfjorden, Tysfjorden, Ofotfjorden and Andfjorden as the herring gathers in the fjords to stay over the winter and off the Lofoten islands during the summer. At Andenes on Andøya in Vesterålen and around Krøttøya in Troms, sperm whales can be observed year round, summer whale watching trips occur from May till September, winter trips with killer whales and humpback whales are offered from October till April. Tromsø also offers whale watching for sperm and other whales. The continental shelf Eggakanten and deep water where the sperm whales congregate, is very close to shore, beginning only 7,000 meters (23,000 ft) from the Andenes harbour.

In Portugal whale watching is available in the Algarve. Lagos and Portimão are the most important whale-watching places. The species observed in this area are the fin, killer, and pilot whale, and the bottlenose, common, and striped dolphin.

In the middle of the Northeast Atlantic, around the Madeira, the Azores and the Cape Verde archipelagos, whale watching is on the increase and popular due to more protection and education. One of the most common whales in these regions is the sperm whale, especially groups of calving females.

In Spain whale watching is available along the Strait of Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, and in the Bay of Biscay. Tarifa is the most important whale watching town in the Strait of Gibraltar; this gateway to the Mediterranean Sea is also a central point in between the colder waters to the North and the tropical waters off of Africa: a good route for migrating cetaceans. The species observed in this area are the bottlenose, common, and striped dolphin, and the pilot, sperm, fin, and killer whale. In the Canary Islands it is possible to see these and others, such as the blue, beaked, false killer, and Bryde's whale, and the Atlantic spotted, rough-toothed, and Risso's dolphin.

In Iceland it is possible to see whales in Eyjafjörður, Breiðafjörður, Skjálfandi and Faxaflói. The towns offering whale watching are Dalvík, Hauganes, Húsavík, Akureyri, Hólmavík, Grundarfjörður and Reykjavík. Most common are the minke, humpback, blue, killer, and sperm whale, as well as the white-beaked dolphin, and the harbour porpoise.

Northwest Atlantic[edit]

Photo of whale with head in the air and two-thirds of its body out of the water, falling onto its back
A humpback breaching in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. This is a behavior commonly seen in the area.

In New England and off the east coast of Long Island in the United States, the whale watching season typically takes place from about mid-spring through October, depending both on weather and precise location. It is here that the humpback whale, fin whale, minke whale, and the very endangered/heavily protected North Atlantic right whale are often observed. For generations, areas like the Gulf of Maine and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (part of the inner waters formed by Cape Cod's hooked shape) have been important feeding grounds for these species: to this day a very large portion of the waters off the Eastern Seaboard are rich in sand lance and other nutritious treats for mothers to teach their calves to feed on.[5]

In the past this area was the US whaling industry's capital, particularly Nantucket, an island just off the coast of Massachusetts. Though whaling has been banned for many years, and strict laws prohibit molestation of these large wild mammals, it is not unknown for the whales to approach whale watching boats uninvited, particularly curious calves and juveniles: it is not unknown in particular, for example, for juvenile humpbacks to approach the boat and spyhop to get a better look at the humans aboard. In recent years it is also not uncommon to see these animals playing and feeding in harbors, including New York City or Boston where fish species of interest to the whales have lately returned in astonishing numbers. As of 2011, an expert from Cornell University has recorded the vocalizations of six whale species including the humpback, the fin whale, and the massive blue whale within close proximity of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the lower portion of New York Harbor and there is at least one company offering marine life tours out of The Rockaway Peninsula in Queens.[14][15] Due to these increasingly frequent visits, new laws address the safety of boaters, commercial fishermen, and the whales themselves: off the coast of Boston, for example, cargo vessels must slow down to protect the much slower North Atlantic right whale and there is talk of erecting an apparatus for the much more heavily trafficked waters surrounding New York City that can warn boats of a whale's presence and location so as to avoid accidentally striking the animal.[15] Because of the relative diversity of whales and dolphins within easy access of shore, cetacean research takes place at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the Riverhead Foundation among other centers.

Whale watching near Tadoussac

Eastern Canada has many whale watching tours in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia or New Brunswick. Twenty-two species of whales and dolphins frequent the waters of Newfoundland and Labrador, although the most common are the humpback, minke, fin, Beluga and killer whales. Another popular whale-watching area is at Tadoussac, Quebec, where Belugas favor the extreme depth and admixture of cold fresh water from the Saguenay River into the inland end of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Humpbacks, minkes, fin and blue whales are also frequently seen off Tadoussac. The Bay of Fundy is an equally important feeding ground for large baleen whales and dozens of other creatures of the sea; it shares a population of migrating humpbacks with America and is a known summer nursery for mother right whales with calves.[5]

On the east coast of the United States, Virginia Beach, Virginia whale watching is a winter activity from the end of December until the middle of March. Fin, humpback, and right whales are seen off the Virginia Beach coast on whale watching boat trips run by the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center.[16] Sightings are mostly of juveniles who stay near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay where food is plentiful, while the adults continue to the Caribbean to mate. "Mom" and "Dad" pick up their offspring on the way back north where the whole family summers.

Ecotour guide stands on a kayak spotting dolphins and manatees, around Lido Key

Ecotourism based on kayak trips is gaining in popularity in warm-water vacation destinations such as Sarasota Keys. Guided kayak trips take kayakers on a tour of the local ecosystem. Kayakers can watch dolphins breach and manatees eat sea grass, in shallow bay water.[17]

The waters surrounding Virginia are also a known migration corridor for the endangered North Atlantic right whale: Pregnant females must pass through this area around December to reach their birthing grounds down the coast in Georgia and Florida. For these reasons the waters between the Delmarva Peninsula and the barrier islands that stretch southwards towards northern Florida must be monitored every winter and spring as mothers give birth to their calves, nurse them, and then ready themselves and their younglings to return north for the cooler waters near New England and Canada.


About 25 species are observed in the Caribbean Sea's waters, such as humpback whales, sperm whales, beaked whales and many other small cetaceans. Principal whale watching activities are done in Samaná Bay in the Dominican Republic, a known breeding ground for humpbacks. Caribwhale and the Caribbean Whale Watch Association include operators engaged in sustainable whale watching activity, as well as experts, conservationists and research groups, such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Dalhousie University and Association Evasion Tropicale.

Northern Indian Ocean[edit]

On the South and East Coasts of Sri Lanka and The Maldives, the industry is growing. During winter and summer, pygmy blue and sperm whales cross the southern tip of the island, migrating to the warmer waters of Southeast Asia. Many pygmy blue whales can be seen at Dondra point in Sri Lanka, accessed through the Mirissa or Weligama harbour. Whale-watching tours can be arranged in Sri Lanka. Blue whales and some types of dolphins can be seen in the sea of Mirissa in Sri Lanka. Many sightings have been reported from November to April.

Northern Mediterranean Sea[edit]

In the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals, located in the waters of Italy, France and Monaco, there are eight species of marine mammals residents, most of them all year.[18] Frequent summer excursions depart from the ports of Genoa and Imperia, in Liguria, Northern Italy.

Pacific Ocean[edit]

East Pacific –Colombia, Ecuador & Panama[edit]

Humpback whale species in Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park, in Colombia, considered the favorite place for whales give birth to their young, making it a tourist destination

In Colombia, the towns of Bahía Solano and Nuquí are visited by a large number of Humpback whales from late July to the beginning of October.[19] In southern Costa Rica, Marino Ballena National Park has two seasons when whales visit.[citation needed]

In Panama, the Pearl Islands archipelago receive an estimated 300 humpbacks whale from late June to late November. These had become now the main attraction for whale watching tours starting in Panama City. In the Gulf of Chiriqui, the World Heritage Site of Coiba Island National Park and the islands near the town of Boca Chica are offering opportunities for whale watching. Isla Iguana near Pedasi is now a popular destination for whale watchers. Several foundations train local community members to perform as guide and captains for whale watching tours.

In Ecuador, from June to September, there are many sites from which large groups of humpback whales can be seen, including Isla de la Plata (AKA Little Galapagos) and Salinas, at the tip of the Santa Elena Peninsula.[5]

Northeast Pacific –Mexico and United States[edit]

Watching orcas in Monterey Bay.
Humpback whales watching (Megaptera novaeangliae), Juneau, Alaska, United States.

On the West Coast of Canada and the United States, excellent whale watching can be found in Alaska (summer), British Columbia, and the San Juan Islands/Puget Sound in Washington, where whales are sighted from shore nearly every day, year-round.[20] Three types of orca pods can be observed in the Northeast Pacific: resident, transient, and offshore killer whales.[20][21]

On the Oregon Coast, several whale species, especially gray whales, may be seen year-round, and the state trains volunteers to assist tourists in the winter months, during whale migration season.[22] In California, good whale-watching can be found year-round on the Southern California coast. During the winter and spring (December–May), gray whales can be seen from shore on their annual migration (the best spot being Point Vicente), while blue whales are often seen between July and October. Fin whales, minke whales, orcas, and various species of dolphins can be seen year-round.[23] In spring, summer, and fall at the Farallon Islands off San Francisco, one may see humpbacks, grays, and blue whales.

In Mexico, the various lagoons of Baja California Sur become breeding habitat for gray whales in February and March.[24][25] Humpback whales can be seen off the southern tip of Baja California,[26] and off Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco on the west coast of Mexico,[27] and Barra de Potosi on the south coast of Mexico in the state of Guerrero.[28] A number of towns in Mexico celebrate the whale's arrival with festivals such as Guerrero Negro, in the first half of February and the port of San Blas on 24 and 25 February.[29]

In late March 2021, a 70-foot (21 m) blue whale was spotted near the Orange County, California coastline. These mammals are typically seen in summer months, but this blue whale was spotted out of season, heading north, close to the Balboa Pier and Newport Beach shoreline.[30]

Central Pacific –Hawaii[edit]

Each winter 4,000 to 10,000 North Pacific humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawaii. In the vast waters that line Alaska's coast, an encounter with a whale is likely. In the summer, after thousands of whales have made their way to the rich feeding grounds of Alaska waters, sightings are extremely common.[citation needed] Whale watching is possible within as well as outside the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. The best places to see whales in Hawaiʻi is in the protected channels between the Hawaiʻian islands. The best months to see the whales here are January and February when you can expect to see between 2 and 4 whales per 15 minute period,[31] although fluctuations between 0 and 20 sightings are normal.[32]

West Pacific –East and Southeast Asia[edit]

Many countries in Asia have large whale watching industries. In 2008 the largest, in terms of number of tourists, were mainland China, Taiwan and Japan. India, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Maldives also have dolphin watching and some whale watching. China's dolphin watching is almost entirely focussed on Sanniang Bay in Guangxi. Taiwan has several whale watching ports on its east coast. Japan has a range of whale and dolphin watching businesses on all main islands and Okinawa, Zamami, Ogasawara, Mikura-Jima and Miyake-jima.[2]

In the Philippines, over thirty species of whales and dolphins can be observed around Pamilacan in Central Visayas, Davao Gulf, the northern coast of the province-island Babuyan Islands in Batanes, Pasaleng Bay, and Malampaya Sound, Palawan. The Visayas is particularly known area for dolphin sightings, and is home to one of the larger populations of the Fraser's dolphin in the world. Dolphin species in the Visayas are attracted to fish lures and to commercial fishing operations. In the northernmost province of Batanes, at least 12 species of whales and dolphins has been sighted, making it the single location in the country with the highest cetacean diversity. There seems to be no specific whale watching season in the Philippines, although the calmer waters of the summer season typically provides the best conditions. Some populations, like those of the Irrawaddy dolphin, Bryde's whale, and humpback whales in Batanes, appear migratory. Other populations have yet to be studied. Some former coastal whaling communities in the Philippines have also started to generate whale watching income.[33]

In Indonesia, whale sharks can be observed in Nabire of Papua region.

Southeast Pacific –Chile and Peru[edit]

In the Gulf of Corcovado and the waters of Guaitecas Archipelago a variety of whales and dolphins can be been spotted, including: Peale's dolphins, black dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, humpback whales, minke whales and killer whales.[34][35] The Gulf of Corcovado is "arguably the largest feeding and nursing ground for blue whales [...] in the entire Southern Hemisphere".[34] All of this makes Guaitecas Archipelago a privilidged place for whale watching.[34] In the localities of Piñihuil, Quellón and Melinka local fishermen offer whale watching tours.[34]

Southwest Pacific – New Zealand and Australia[edit]

Whale watching in Kaikoura, December 2000
Photo of whales at surface with buildings in the background
A couple of humpback whales spotted off the Gold Coast, Queensland

Kaikōura in New Zealand is a world-famous whale-watching site. The sea around Kaikōura supports an abundance of sea life, with the town's income stemming largely from the tourism generated from whale watching and swimming with or around dolphins. Recently the sperm whale watching at Kaikōura has developed rapidly and now it is an industry leader, arguably the most developed in the world. The town went into recession after the collapse of whaling in New Zealand. Its recent development has been used to advocate the benefits of watching whales instead of hunting them.

The Sunshine Coast and Hervey Bay (where the whales stay and rest before migrating) in Queensland, Australia offer reliable whale watching conditions for southern humpback whales from the end of June through to the end of November each year. Whale numbers and activity have increased markedly in recent years.[when?] Sydney, Eden, Port Stephens, Narooma and Byron Bay in New South Wales are other popular hot spots for tours from May to November.

Southern right whales are seen June–August along the south coast of Australia. They are often readily viewed from the coast around Encounter Bay near Victor Harbor and up to a hundred at a time may be seen from the cliff tops at the head of the Great Australian Bight near Yalata. See also Whaling in Australia.

Southern right whale, offshore from Cheynes, Western Australia

In Western Australia, whales are watched near Cape Naturaliste in the south-east Indian Ocean and at Cape Leeuwin where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet.

In the Southern Ocean there are many spots to see whales, both from land or aboard ship. Albany on the south coast of Western Australia the town where the last land based whaling station in the southern hemisphere was located is now home to a thriving whale watching industry. In Victoria a popular site is Logan's Beach at Warrnambool, as well as in the waters off Port Fairy and Portland.[36] In Tasmania whales can be seen all along the east coast and even on the River Derwent.[37] In South Australia whales are watched in the Great Australian Bight Marine Park areas and closer to Adelaide at Victor Harbor.[38]

In eastern Australia, whale watching occurs in many spots along the Pacific coast. From headlands, whales may often be seen making their migration south. At times, whales even make it into Sydney Harbour.

New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife took an active role in 2010 during the peak southern whale watching[39] season between May and November with the launch of its whale watching site.[40]

Whaling and whale watching[edit]

The three biggest whaling nations (Canada, Greenland and Norway) have growing whale watching industries. The next four whaling nations (Japan, United States, Russia and Iceland) also have whale watching industries. Indeed, Iceland had the fastest-growing whale watching industry in the world between 1994 and 1998.[1]


Whale watching business in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick.

Whale watching and hunting take place in different regions of Canada: the former mainly on Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the latter exclusively in the Arctic. Whale watching happens in the Saint Lawrence River, western Hudson's Bay near Churchill, and British Columbia. Hunting takes place in eastern Hudson's Bay (Nunavik, Quebec), Nunavut and the Beaufort Sea. Researchers have suggested the hunting areas would benefit more from whale watching than hunting since hunting takes more resources than it earns.[41] In 2018, Canada implemented new restrictions intended to cut human interactions with whales. Following these rules, all boats must stay farther away from the mammals than before. Some activities, including snorkeling with humpbacks, are banned.[42]


Greenland has small whale watching operations in Disko Bay[43] and Nuuk.[44] Both areas have beluga hunts.[45] There has been controversy over who is allowed to participate in hunts and consume the meat.[46]


Orca near Tysfjord, Norway

Enjoyment of observing live cetaceans is rather separated from the domestic whaling industry in Norway; however, whale watching has become a popular national tourist attraction in recent years, especially in Andfjorden (Vesterålen and Troms) and around Tromsø.

  • Uniquely, public opinions against whaling showed sudden rises in 2014, when a possibly pregnant minke whale Heiko, named after Keiko the orca and a local cetacean researcher Heike Vester who monitors the whale's safety, successfully shook off whaling vessels by taking refuge in the very shallow fjord of Lofoten, where large whales had not been seen for years; this has provided chances for locals to witness cetaceans at close range. Heiko's appearance soon resulted in an increase in interest among locals.[47] As time passed, Heiko attracted more domestic and international interest, which has resulted in greater questioning and opposition to the whaling industry in Norway.


Humpback whale illustration from the Edo period, 18th-19th century
Resident Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins at Mikura-jima

Erich Hoyt and other conservationists argue that a whale is worth more alive and watched than dead.[5] The goal is to persuade their governments to curtail whaling activities. This debate continues at the International Whaling Commission, particularly since whaling countries complain that the scarcity of whale meat and other products has increased their value. However, the whale meat market has collapsed, and in Japan the government subsidizes the market through distribution in schools and other promotion. In 1997, 2,000 tonnes of whale meat were sold for $30m – a 10-tonne minke whale would thus have been worth $150,000. There is no agreement as to how to value a single animal although its true value is probably much higher. However, it is clear from most coastal communities that are involved in whale watching that profits can be made and are more horizontally distributed throughout the community than if the animals were killed by the whaling industry.[1][5]

  • There have been disputes and skirmishes between whale watching operators and whalers in the nation. For example, whaling was operated right in front of watching vessels, causing malaise among domestic and international passengers on board, and domestic disputes spread on the Internet in Nemuro Strait in 2007.[48] Local tour operators confirmed that targeted species for hunting such as Baird's beaked whales and Dall's porpoises are known to disappear or have become harder to approach in the seasons of whaling operations in the area.[49] Recent notable declines and disappearances (or abandoning of historical habitats) of minke and Baird's beaked whales in coastal waters caused by commercial and scientific whaling that have been operated in wide ranges off the eastern half of Honshu and Hokkaido especially off Abashiri, Gulf of Sendai, and along the coast of Chiba, caused dramatic decreases in sightings of both species in many areas, enough for whalers to be forced to change their operating ranges, and a watching operator in Muroran claimed that whaling affected the profits of the operator due to serious declines and low rates of successful minke sightings in the area.[50] Hunting of Baird's beaked whales in Sea of Japan has ceased in recent decades, and the whales have been said to have become more friendly during this period; however, commercial whaling was resumed in Sea of Japan and caused concerns among cetacean conservationists.
  • The first whale watching in Japan was conducted in Bonin Islands in 1998 by a group called "Geisharen 鯨者連" which was formed by groups of domestic and international people including both domestic and international celebrities and notable cetacean researchers and conservationists such as Roger Payne, Erich Hoyt, Richard Oliver, Jim Darling, John Ford, Kyusoku Iwamoto (cartoonist), Hutoushiki Ueki (science writer), Nobuyuki Miyazaki (head chief of the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute of The University of Tokyo), Nobuaki Mochizuki (one of the world's first whale photographers to record a North Pacific right whale underwater in 1990 in Bonin Islands), and Junko Sakuma (freelancer).[51] During this time until before the group reach the destination, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Japan) and other groups and anonymous individuals watched the group's movements and tried to pressure them not to conduct the tour.[52] Prior to this movement, those who claimed conserving marine mammals including pinnipeds, or individuals who tried to correct illegal and over-extensive hunts (including C. W. Nicol, who was a sympathizer with Japan's whaling industries) or domestic media that have done reporting assignments[53] in Japan had been discriminated.[52] These include a former fisherman who was ostracized from the community, later to become a whale-watching operator.[54] Several other tours have been operated by former whalers or dolphin hunters in places such as Abashiri and Muroto.


Russian whale watching involves orcas off the Kamchatka peninsula on the edge of the Sea of Okhotsk.[55] [56] Beluga are hunted in the Sea of Okhotsk as well as farther north. Erich Hoyt of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has identified other places in Russia to develop whale watching.[57]


Blue whale with calf, Ólafsvík, Iceland

Upon the resumption of whaling in Iceland in August 2003, pro-whaling groups, such as fishermen who argue that increased stocks of whales deplete fish populations, suggested that sustainable whaling and whale watching could live side by side. Whale watching lobbyists, such as Húsavík Whale Museum curator Asbjorn Bjorgvinsson, counter that the most inquisitive whales, which approach boats very closely and provide much of the entertainment on whale-watching trips, will be the first to be taken. Pro-whaling organisations such as the High North Alliance on the other hand, claim that some whale-watching companies in Iceland are surviving only because they receive funding from anti-whaling organizations. In 2020, Iceland ceased whaling activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and decreasing sales to Japan limited the feasibility of a harvest.[58][59] That same year, whaling for minke whales by the only company targeting domestic markets was permanently ended.[60] A similar decision to halt all whaling activities was made for the summer whaling season of 2021 in light of ongoing pandemic restrictions and steady increases in whale watching tourism.[61]


Common minke whale spy hopping, Azores

In comparison, the government of the Azores has promoted an economic policy centred on tourism that includes whale watching. With the decline of whaling in the early 1970s in the islands, many of the communities of the archipelago involved in whaling (including villages and towns, specifically on the islands of Faial, Terceira, São Miguel and Pico) were transformed into hubs for whale watching services (that followed the migratory tracts during the summer), while older buildings and factories were re-purposed into museums.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]