From whaling to whale watching: Examining sustainability and cultural rhetoric

Paul A. Cunningham, Edward H. Huijbens, Stephen L. Wearing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores whaling and whale watching to determine the viability of their divergent practices - and explains why they coexist in some cases. Whale watching is often viewed as an ecotourism product and presented as an activity that is fast growing, holds potential for local regeneration, promotes conservation and sustainable practice and is ecological and profitable. Whaling is currently under considerable scrutiny and relies on economic and increasingly cultural rhetoric to support its viability. Contrary to some statements, it is rarely a long-established practice. The paper uses Japan and Iceland as examples to examine the sustainability frameworks and political rhetoric surrounding these activities, and asks whether whale watchingmight offer an alternative economy for the whaling/fishing communities in an era of conflict over sustainable resource use. The paper finds that whale watching participation grew from 9 million tourists in 2001 to 13 million in 2008, with revenues rising from $1 billion to $2.1 billion per annum over that period. Whaling relies heavily on state and private subsidies.We also find, however, that whaling and whale watching can co-exist, that both use sustainability-based rhetoric, but that global trends in public opinion and taste favour whale watching over whaling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-161
JournalJournal of Sustainable Tourism
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Ecotourism
  • Iceland
  • Japan
  • Sustainability
  • Whale watching
  • Whaling


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