Every year whales migrate all over the world, up and down both North American coasts. They travel from Southern Asia and Australia to Antarctica, from Japan and Russia to Alaska and all across Northern Europe. With them, they bring tourists — whale watchers who spend money seasonally to catch a glimpse of a whale or two.
Ecotourism is a multi-billion-dollar industry, with whale watching contributing about half a billion dollars annually, according to University of British Columbia bio-economist Rashid Sumaila.
As whales migrate from cold to warm waters, breeding and feeding hot spots around the world experience booms and busts. Washington state, California and Mexico are among the most well-known places to see humpbacks and other whales, and they have thriving whale-watching industries. But other places, like Quebec and Ireland, are investing in their own growing ecotourism markets.
Quebec recently spent about half of a $600,000 advertising campaign just to attract whale watchers. Last year, 300,000 people visited Quebec to whale watch, up 100 percent from the year before. And whale watching tourism globally is growing too, possibly because of the appeal of seeing an endangered animal in the wild.
Sumaila says the whale-watching business depends on protecting whales and oceans. The already unpredictable industry is taking a hit because of changing migration patterns — a result of warming oceans and acidic waters. As the whales adapt to their changing environment, "there will be losers and there will be winners" in business, Sumaila says.
He hopes the growing ecotourism industry will begin to give back to conservation and preservation efforts around the world. Without the whales, there is no business.