Value of keeping whales alive pushed at IWC meeting

Anti-whaling groups are turning to economics as a key reason why all countries should discontinue commercial whaling.

A report commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare concludes that the whale-watching industry has more than doubled over the past decade. In 2008, more than 13 million people in 119 countries and territories participated in whale watching, generating a total $2.1 billion in direct expenditures, the report says.

The report, by Economists at Large & Associates of Melbourne, Australia, was released at this week’s International Whaling Commission’s Meeting in Madeira, Portugal.

From the report:

Across the globe, the whale watching industry has grown at an average rate of 3.7% per year, comparing well against global tourism growth of 4.2% per year over the same period.

But the growth rate of whale watching at a global level tells only part of the story. At a regional level, average annual growth has occurred well above growth in tourism rates in five of the seven regions in this report: Asia (17% per year), Central America and the Caribbean (13% per year), South America (10% per year), Oceania and the Pacific Islands (10% per year) and Europe (7%), evidence of strongly emerging industries…

The picture that emerges is of an industry that provides a new model for use of natural resources — an industry that relies on whales in a non‐extractive way. That, when well managed, can be truly sustainable and provide a sharp contrast to the days when whales were seen solely as a resource to be hunted and consumed.

It should be noted, however, that whaling watching itself is not without its impacts. The IWC has focused considerable attention on this issue as well. See this year’s report from the Scientific Subcommittee on Whale Watching (PDF 220 kb).

Meanwhile, a report commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund International concludes that whaling activities in Japan and Norway are not profitable by themselves and probably would not exist without subsidies. The June 18 issue of Science News reviews that study.

Iceland and Japan argue that whaling is an important cultural tradition and should be maintained even as the whale-watching industry grows.

“Allegations that whaling affects whale watching have proven not to be true,” said Tomas Heidar, Iceland’s commissioner to the IWC, in a report by Richard Black of the BBC. “On the contrary, whale watching has been growing steadily in the last few years after our resumption of commercial whaling [in 2006].”

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