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How to Make Money From Whales

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During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, towns along the coast of New England made their living from fishing and whaling; thinking that the seas’ bounties would never end as economies boomed, beautiful homes were built, and their residents prospered. But, the seas’ bounties were not endless and 90% of the world’s large whale populations were lost to whaling. Many of the beautiful homes fell into disrepair, economies declined drastically, residents were forced to move elsewhere to find work, and families were torn apart.  So… How to Make Money From Whales?

It wasn’t until the 1970s that profitable whaling of sorts returned to New England in the form of whale watching and eco-tourism.

Visionaries and environmentalists joined forces to develop the whale watching industry in places like Provincetown, Massachusetts, where tens of thousands of tourists travel each season to watch the whales that spend their springs and summers in the food-rich waters of the Stellwagen Bank. It is these whales that also travel to the Caribbean where they spend their winters calving and mating.

The advent of whale watching in places like Provincetown brought with it the rebirth of the beautiful old homes as small hotels and B & B’s, increased job opportunities, and renewed economies. Not only has whale watching provided jobs directly related to the industry itself but it has also brought jobs to the support areas such as food services, transportation, advertising and media, laundry and cleaning services not to mention new retail stores, travel related businesses, and other recreational venues as well as creating a broader tax base for the municipality which translates to better community services including school funding.

Those first visionaries and environmentalists who realized conserving and protecting New England’s marine environment and the whales that live within by promoting education and passive wildlife interaction created a multi-million dollar industry that is now benefiting many thousands of people. They realized back in the 1970s that those whales were not only worth protecting in their own right but that they were also the geese who had the potential of laying many golden eggs.

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What does the above have to do with the Caribbean and the whales that winter in our waters?

If for no other reason, conserving and protecting the whales that winter in our waters will also lead to new economic opportunities here. If the governments and peoples of the Caribbean would also be forward thinking, there is no reason that at least some of our islands could not develop broad based eco-tourism venues including whale watching.

A quote taken from the World Travel & Tourism Council’s report, “The Caribbean – The Impact of Travel and Tourism on Jobs and the Economy, 2002” states: “The Caribbean is the most tourism intensive region in the world, however a vast majority of Caribbean countries disregard, or are unaware of, or are in complete denial about the economic impact of travel and tourism. As a result, they fail to realize the full potential that travel and tourism can make to their economies as a creator of jobs and development opportunities”.

The 92-page report further states that the islands of the Caribbean are not doing nearly enough to protect and preserve the natural environment, nor use the environment in a sustainable manner, even though the future of tourism is dependent upon these actions. Not only will tourists stop coming when our waters become too polluted for swimming or the sustaining of reefs and fish life, neither will they come if overdevelopment destroys the beauty of the land nor if a day’s sail might well bring the sight of a harpooned whale being winched aboard a whaling ship.

Surveying various tourism dependent areas of the world including Costa Rica, the islands of the South Pacific and one small town in New England generated staggering results when comparing eco-tourism to whaling income.

Long known as the most notorious whaling nation, and currently hunting large, internationally protected whales under the “scientific research” loophole in the worldwide ban on commercial whaling, Japan’s official statement of annual income from whaling indicates a gross profit between $20-40,000,000 USD. Should the ban on commercial whaling be lifted this figure would increase but it is important to note that it would be generated by the taking of whales from around the world. However, Japan’s meager whaling income would never come close to matching the income generated by eco-tourism in the very countries in which Japan is intent upon hunting whales.

Forward thinking government officials and private citizens in Costa Rica realized that their county’s natural habitat was disappearing at an alarming rate and took steps to stop the devastation by developing and promoting sustainable eco-tourism. The current annual income from eco-tourism there is approximately $162,000,000 USD which includes a burgeoning whale and dolphin watching industry along its Pacific coast.

Islands of the South Pacific are also benefiting from visionary governments and private industry sectors who realize that sustainable eco-tourism, whale and dolphin watching included, will be their life blood. The annual income from all tourism in the South Pacific Trade Organization member islands is $1,522,000,000 USD; yes, over 1.5 billion U.S. dollars per year generated by tourism that also includes a rapidly growing whale and dolphin watching industry!

A report in the Provincetown, Massachusetts, newspaper states that approximately 1,000,000 tourists flock to Provincetown each year both for eco-tourism and cultural activities. A highly respected and well known whale watching educational group there reports an average of over 66,000 whale watching passengers each year for the past 30 years. At $22-30 per passenger, it isn’t difficult to calculate the direct income from whale watching for this one organization; and since there are many other operators in Provincetown 66,000 passengers per year is only a fraction of the total. Because the whale watching trips depart very early in the morning each of these passengers would likely spend at least one night in a hotel and eat at least 3 meals per day while in Provincetown.

These are just three examples of the income generated by tourism in countries and towns that look to the future and are intelligent enough to know that protecting the environment and promoting sustainable eco-tourism will bring about long-term economic opportunities from which all residents will benefit. Eco-tourism generates billions of dollars a year in revenue around the world. Millions of jobs are directly related to that tourism and millions more jobs are created by the industries supporting the tourism businesses.

Concerned only for the perpetuation of its cruel and archaic whale hunting, Japan has announced that it will begin hunting the very whales in the South Pacific islands that contribute to the $1.5 billion in annual income from tourism there. And, Japan is courting the Caribbean island nations that belong to the International Whaling Commission in order to gain a pro-whaling majority on the commission with the hopes of returning commercial whaling to seas around the world.

Japan cares neither for the preservation of what remains of the world’s large whale species nor for the well being of Pacific islanders, Caribbean islanders, nor residents of all the small towns around the world whose livelihood depends upon very profitable eco-tourism.

Are we not visionary enough here in the Caribbean to follow the lead of the islands in the South Pacific, the country of Costa Rica, or the small city of Provincetown, Massachusetts? The economic figures are indisputable fact…billions of dollars in the coffers of eco-tourism friendly countries should be more than enough to cause us to demand no less from seemingly short-sighted government officials in the Caribbean. Eco-tourism could bring untold benefits not only in protecting our environment but to all life forms living therein.

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Becky Bauer is a scuba instructor and award-winning journalist covering the marine environment in the Caribbean. She is a contributing photographer to NOAA.

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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