The Economic Contributions of Whalewatching to Regional Economies


Brad Barr1, Dan Utech2, Porter Hoagland3, Andrew E. Meeks4
1National Marine Sanctuary Program
2Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary
3Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The National Marine Sanctuary Program has been significantly affected by the growth of the whalewatching industry. Whalewatching occurs at most of the sites, with whale grounds at Stellwagen and Hawaii alone hosting more than 1.2 million visitors a year. For these sites, and for many of the other sanctuaries, whalewatching represents one of the most important uses of the sanctuary waters, and can present some significant challenges.

National marine sanctuaries are managed as multiple use areas. It can be difficult to balance conservation and protection with the various uses. In order to make informed decisions regarding the fate of existing uses, sanctuary managers must have the best, most scientifically robust information available about those resources. Biological, chemical, and physical oceanography of the site, life history information, and ecological interactions are all important but so is the social and economic value of an activity.

The two studies presented in this issue of the Marine Sanctuaries Conservation Series were commissioned by the National Marine Sanctuary Program elements at the Studds/Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary to assist sanctuary managers in understanding the economics of the whalewatch industry in these regions. They have been conducted using entirely different analytical methodologies, but both provide rigorous scientific analyses of whalewatch economics, information essential to the effective management of our national marine sanctuaries.

The first paper is a study conducted by Dan Utech, who at the time was a Presidential Management Intern working at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Like the authors of the second work, the basis for this analysis is an intensive survey, but in this case integrating this new data to establish 1999 direct revenue estimates from survey data, and extrapolating indirect and induced revenues and jobs supported through an Input-Output model used in 1992 by the State of Hawaii to estimate the overall value of the State's ocean tour industry. It is somewhat more comprehensive than the second study, including activities where whalewatching is not the only activity being conducted on these boat trips, but also provides another scientifically rigorous estimate of the economic value of whalewatching in the Hawaiian sanctuary.

The second paper was a study conducted by Porter Hoagland and Andy Meeks from the Marine Policy Center at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, for the Studds/Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Completed in 1997, with recent revisions for this publication, this study calculated the economic value of whalewatching in the sanctuary, where over 90% of the New England regional whalewatching effort is directed. The authors conducted an intensive survey of the whalewatch operators during the July and August 1996 whalewatching season, using an traditional economic analytical tool called "zonal travel cost methodology," selected because it is simple, requires limited data, and is widely accepted by economists for this type of application. From this analysis, the authors were able to provide reasonably rigorous, conservative estimates of the economic value of whalewatching activity in the sanctuary.