Japan and Iceland already have the potential to replace unprofitable whaling operations with the growing business of whale watching according to a new analysis by sustainable tourism experts in Japan, Iceland and Australia.
In a paper recently published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, the authors argue whale watching is a "booming industry" in Japan and Iceland, ironically co-existing with subsidised whale hunting operations.
The Australia-based member of the research team, UTS's Associate Professor Stephen Wearing, said there was evidence to support a transition from hunting to viewing that would be "a way out for everybody" – both in terms of economics and national pride.
The paper notes that the state-supported whaling industry in Japan has made consistent losses over the past 20 years – an estimated US$223 million since 1988 – and amassed a stockpile of whale meat estimated 4000 tons in 2010.
Meanwhile the country has a growing whale watching industry that catered for nearly 200,000 participants in 2008 – more than 90 per cent of them Japanese – and generated nearly US$23 million in direct and indirect revenue that year.
In Iceland, where the whale hunt has been supported from other fishing industry profits, whale watching is growing faster than the rest of Europe, averaging 17 per cent per annum. In 2010 its total economic contribution was estimated at US$16.4 million.
"In both countries successful whale watching businesses have been launched out of former whaling and fishing ports, offering an alternative economy for those communities," Associate Professor Wearing said.
"Of course there is a lot more we need to know about developing such alternatives, including the under-researched area of potential impacts of marine tourism on wild populations.
"As far as we can see, though, neither industry nor government has taken much notice of the possibilities, so part of the reason for this paper is to promote the need for more research.
"We've got to get the hard-headed industry people to look at the numbers and conclude – as has happened with African land animals – that they're worth far more alive."
"From whaling to whale watching: examining sustainability and cultural rhetoric" has been published in the first 2012 issue of the Journal of Sustainable Tourism.
Associate Professor Wearing's co-authors are Professor Paul Cunningham from Tokyo's Rikkyo University and Dr Edward Huijbens from the Icelandic Tourism Research Institute, University of Akureyri.