Getting closer to whales - passenger expectations and experiences, and the management of swim with dwarf minke whale interactions in the Great Barrier Reef

Valentine, Peter S., Birtles, Alastair, Curnock, Matt, Arnold, Peter, and Dunstan, Andy (2004) Getting closer to whales - passenger expectations and experiences, and the management of swim with dwarf minke whale interactions in the Great Barrier Reef. Tourism Management, 25 (6). pp. 647-655.

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Whale-watching tourism is a growth industry worldwide. In Australia, with whale-watchers approaching one million per annum there has been considerable effort to develop management regimes that protect the whales while enabling the development of a sustainable ecotourism industry. A mixture of National and State laws and regulations have governed the industry (Tourism based on free-ranging marine wildlife: opportunities and responsibilities, Wildlife Tourism Research Report No. 11, Status Assessment of Wildlife Tourism in Australia Series, CRC for Sustainable Tourism, Gold Coast, Queensland) but these have been mainly derived from experiences with humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) whale watching from vessels at sea. In this article we describe the development and nature of new and rapidly growing swim-with-whales operations based on the dwarf minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) in the Great Barrier Reef of northern Queensland. The distinctly different quality of these operations raise interesting questions for long-term management (Towards sustainable management of the developing dwarf minke whale tourism industry in northern Queensland, CRC Reef Research Technical Report 27, James Cook University of North Queensland, 30pp (emended version of SC/50/WW1)).

In the 1999–2000 seasons, 453 passengers (88.1% of respondents) swam with minke whales. Only 25% of visitors came specifically for the whale interactions and 43% learned of the whales on board the vessel. Passengers thus had low expectations about whales and encounters. A variety of factors, including the diving experience, particular dive sites, a range of wildlife species and socializing contributed to visitor satisfaction. Nonetheless, there was a significant correlation between visitor satisfaction and closeness of approaches by the whales, total number of whales seen and total time spent with whales. We discuss the key issues associated with swim-with-whales programs in the light of our findings. The cooperative engagement of tourism operators, researchers and government management agencies is a feature of this new industry.

Item ID: 1035
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1879-3193
Keywords: whale-watching, dwarf minke whale, Great Barrier Reef, swim with whales, tourist experiences, management, proximity, visitor profiles
Date Deposited: 03 Nov 2006
FoR Codes: 15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150603 Tourism Management @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9607 Environmental Policy, Legislation and Standards > 960707 Trade and Environment @ 100%
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