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Can Whale Watching Be a Conduit for Spreading Educational and Conservation Messages? A Case Study in Juneau, Alaska

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Whale watching is growing in popularity, with over 100 countries participating in different forms of whale- and dolphin-watching activities. As the whale-watching industry increases, vessel traffic, as well as encounters between cetaceans and people, will increase. Although there are policies to reduce potential disturbance of the whales and/or dolphins, tour companies often face pressure to please their customers. It is thereby important to understand the experiences of passengers while recognizing the educational and conservation messages whale watches can spread to their passengers. Here, a case study of whale watching in Juneau, Alaska is presented, which investigates passenger knowledge, experience, attitude, and intentions regarding whales, whale watching, and conservation. Self-administered paper and pencil multiple answer choice surveys and researcher-administered interview surveys were conducted. The majority of passengers gained most of their knowledge about whales from that day's whale watch, had no awareness of NOAA guidelines/regulations, and had no prior whale-watching experience. The top two determinants of whale-watching quality were getting close to whales and seeing whales do interesting behaviors. Most passengers placed high importance on seeing whales in the wild and were very likely to tell friends and family about what was learned on the tour. There was no significant relationship between awareness of NOAA guidelines and previous whale-watching experience or the top determinant of whale-watching quality (getting close to whales). Additionally, there were no significant relationships between importance of seeing whales in the wild and the likelihood of telling friends and family about what they learned, or joining or donating to an environmental or conservation organization. Interview surveys revealed a combination of in-depth knowledge and biased perceptions of whales. This study reveals the capacity for whale watching to advance public knowledge of cetaceans and marine conservation and the importance of managing passenger expectations.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2017

This article was made available online on November 2, 2016 as a Fast Track article with title: "CAN WHALE WATCHING BE A CONDUIT FOR SPREADING EDUCATIONAL AND CONSERVATION MESSAGES? A CASE STUDY IN JUNEAU, ALASKA".

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  • Tourism in Marine Environments is an interdisciplinary journal dealing with a variety of management issues in marine settings. It is a scientific journal that draws upon the expertise of academics and practitioners from various disciplines related to the marine environment, including tourism, marine science, geography, social sciences, psychology, environmental studies, economics, marketing, and many more.
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