Whale and seal watching are outdoor activities that have become increasingly popular for recreation. These activities sometimes also serve scientific and educational purposes. According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW 2009), 13 million people went whale watching for recreation in 2008. This generated US $2.1 billion in tourism revenue worldwide, and employed 13,000 workers in 119 countries. Whale watching is currently by far the largest economic activity reliant on cetaceans.
The size and rapid growth of the whale watching industry has led to complex and ongoing debates on the best use of whales as a natural resource. However, taking the example of Norway and Iceland, whale watching seems to be able to co-exist with whaling in a complementary relationship. Below is shown the development of the number of visiting tourists in Iceland compared to the growth of the resident population since 1940.
There is a growing awareness of the potentially negative effects of whale and seal watching on marine mammal populations due to the increasing numbers of visitors, trips, vessels and vessel size. In some places these activities significantly affect whales’ and seals’ behaviour and migratory patterns. You can read more on marine mammal watching in the section on Disturbance.