Page last updated at 08:33 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 09:33 UK

Whale-watching 'worth billions'

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News, Madeira

Whale watchers (SPL)
Whale watching turns a profit, while hunting may incur a loss

Whale watching generates far more money than whale hunting, according to a report released at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting here.

Worldwide, the industry now generates about $2.1bn per year, it says.

The group commissioning the report, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw), says whaling countries would gain from a switch to whale watching.

However, Iceland's delegate here said the two industries were compatible and could grow together.

Iceland recently announced a major expansion of its fin whale hunt and plans to take 150 of the animals this year, along with up to 100 minke whales.

"As governments sit here [at the IWC] debating what to do about whaling, their people are showing the way," said Patrick Ramage, director of Ifaw's whale programme.

"Whale watching is clearly more environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial than hunting, and whales are worth far more alive than dead," he told BBC News.

The report follows on the heels of an analysis commissioned by another organisation opposed to whaling, WWF, which suggested that the Japanese and Norwegian hunts were a net cost to their governments.

Double digit

The Ifaw-commissioned report, compiled by the Australian organisation Economists at Large, found that income from whale watching had doubled over the last decade, with the fastest growth seen in Asia.

Icelandic whaling boat (AFP)
Iceland argues commercial whaling can co-exist with whale watching

In 2008, it concluded, 13 million people went to sea to watch cetaceans in 119 countries.

As an anti-whaling organisation, Ifaw has repeatedly campaigned to persuade Iceland to end its hunts - a practice which, Ifaw contends, is hurting its whale-watching industry.

The potential for conflict between the two industries was starkly demonstrated in 2006, when tourists on a Norwegian boat saw a minke whale harpooned.

But Iceland's commissioner to the IWC, Tomas Heidar, said that in his country the two industries had co-existed successfully for a number of years.

"Allegations that whaling affects whale watching have proven not to be true," he said.

"On the contrary, whale watching has been growing steadily in the last few years after our resumption of commercial whaling [in 2006]."

Economists at Large gathered the data for its report through surveying whale-watching companies, tourist boards, researchers and NGOs.

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