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Whale Watching Economically Risky, Study Shows

PO Box 291, Brentwood Bay BC Canada V8M 1R3
Phone / Fax 001 250 652-8352

23 July 2001

Whale Watching Economically Risky, Study Shows

The chairman of the Canadian-based World Council of Whalers, Chief Tom Mexsis Happynook, said today the recently completed economic analysis by Drs Moyle and Evans indicates that the alleged financial benefits of whale watching are greatly exaggerated and ignore the real benefits derived from sustainable whaling and the consumption of customary foods.

Chief Mexis Happynook said New Zealand bio-economist Dr Brendan Moyle and his Canadian colleague Dr Mike Evans found that proposing whaling nations put aside centuries-old traditions and instead revert only to whale watching operations not only ignores dietary-related needs but is extremely risky economically. (Their analysis, “A bioeconomic and socio-economic analysis of whale-watching with attention given to associated direct and indirect costs”, can be obtained through the World Council of Whalers’ Website on

“Although whale watching can provide some financial benefits to local communities, the health benefits from providing affordable and nutritional food cannot be so lightly dismissed,” Chief Mexsis Happynook said.

“Health authorities recognize the direct link between the harmful effects of consuming such fatty foods as imported mutton flaps and poultry parts, and the current alarming rates of diseases such as high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke throughout the small island nations of the South Pacific.”

“The New Zealand and Australian governments’ actions at the International Whaling Commission continue to be directed and focused on blocking any resumption of sustainable whaling, and their latest tool is the questionable claim that whale watching provides maximum benefit to all peoples. They have taken this message to the small island nations of the South Pacific who understandably are looking for ways of improving their economic circumstances.

However, whale watching does not improve the nutritional and dietary needs and the health status of Indigenous Peoples and places developing South Pacific Island nations in a vulnerable position economically,” Chief Mexsis Happynook said.

(more to follow)
“The proposal for a whale sanctuary in the South Pacific disregards the traditional cultures and the serious health needs of the people of some South Pacific Island nations. New Zealand and Australia are acting irresponsibly by actively pushing these island nations to cease pursuit of their traditional health by eating traditional foods and instead establish whale-watching operations.”

“This push towards whale watching was most evident at the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) meeting in Apia, Samoa, in April and also makes up a significant part of New Zealand’s and Australia’s renewed sanctuary bid at this year’s IWC annual meeting in London,” said Chief Mexsis Happynook.

“The New Zealand government appears to ignore the fact that whales are a renewable resource, and that some whales can be utilized for food while allowing those same stocks to flourish and increase in numbers. While the New Zealand and Australian governments appear to believe that whale watching and whaling cannot occur in the same nation, it is a demonstrated fact that both activities take place in all whaling nations today.”

“The World Council of Whalers will continue to work in solidarity with coastal whaling peoples of the South Pacific, the Caribbean, and throughout the world in opposition to any whale sanctuary that lacks a credible conservation justification,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate that New Zealand defines the term ‘conservation’ as meaning ‘total protection’ when the world standard, as found in the World Conservation Strategy, Agenda 21 and the Convention on Biological Diversity, for example, defines it as ‘sustainable use’.”

The World Council of Whalers is an international, non-governmental organisation that includes whale users, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal. The Council’s recent assembly in Nelson was attended by more than 250 delegates from 21 countries, including parliamentarians and government officials, community leaders, whalers and representatives from whaling communities, researchers, and students.


For more information and interviews with Chief Tom Mexsis Happynook, contact Glenn Hema Inwood on 021 498 010 or at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel,
London, 0044 20 7373 6030


By Dr Brendan J. Moyle (Massey University, New Zealand), and
Dr Mike Evans (University of Alberta, Canada)

(A full copy of this report can be obtained on


Whale-watching has been promoted as an economic activity that when combined with a ban on whale hunting, maximises economic benefits to participating communities.

This argument is criticised for the following reasons. First, the benefits of whale-watching are inflated. This inflation results from using industry turnover, rather than economic surplus, as a measure of benefit. Economic studies of whale- watching that use appropriate methodologies generate estimates about one order of magnitude lower than whale-watching reports using turnover. Such inflation is exacerbated by the practise of using industry inputs as benefits rather than as costs, and including indirect expenditures that can be attributed to non-whale attributes of the site, thus assuming whales, rather than, e.g., tourism infrastructure or prior values, induces such expenditures.

Whale-watching proponents often claim that the purported benefits of whale-watching are conservative estimates of economic benefit because multipliers are excluded from their assessments. However, multipliers should be excluded on methodological grounds. Furthermore, the environmental and social costs of whale-watching are not properly incorporated into proponents’ analyses. In such studies, the benefits of whale hunting are systematically under-estimated by using market price as a proxy for value, while ignoring the various social (including health) and cultural benefits that are found in whaling societies, quite apart from the commercial values of hunting.

(more to follow)
It is argued that for countries that are peripheral to the core whale-watching nations in North America, Japan, and Australasia, the industry has a Hotelling structure. In Hotelling-markets, travel distance is the principal factor affecting demand; the distance of peripheral sites from the core means that the growth in whale-watching is bypassing such sites. This is demonstrated in the case of Vava’u in Tonga.

This strongly suggests that countries on the periphery with an interest in whale hunting would, in economic or developmental terms, be ill-advised to permit whale-watching activity to replace whale hunting. The profitability of a whale-watching-alone strategy involves several risks, including competition resulting from expansion of whale-watching activity at sites closer to the core whale-watching areas.

It is demonstrated that the economic returns from whale resources can be maximised by retaining a whale hunting option for cases where resource populations rise above that necessary for conservation or tourism activities.

By eliminating this option for the prospect of uncertain gains from whale-watching, such countries expose themselves to predictable economic and social shocks. It is demonstrated that in typical “peripheral” (in relation to the “core” whale watch areas) countries, such as South Pacific island-nations, the removal of marine resource-exploitation options has exacerbated socio-economic shocks such as the spread of diet-related non-communicable diseases. Such peripheral countries have a lesser ability to absorb such shocks, hence the elimination of hunting options is an imprudent risky development route.

It is concluded that the case for substituting whale-watching for whale hunting is based on poor economic analysis, while retaining the option for whale hunting is prudent and provides an important social and economic buffer for such peripheral nations.

A full copy of this report can be found on the
World Council of Whalers’ website

© Scoop Media

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