the state of whale watching in latin america

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  • Global Ocean

    The State ofWhale Watchingin Latin Americaby Erich Hoytand Miguel Iguez

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    The State of Whale Watching in Latin America

    by Erich Hoytand Miguel Iguez


    Global Ocean

    Citation: Hoyt, E. and Iguez, M. 2008. The State of Whale Watching in Latin America. WDCS,Chippenham, UK; IFAW, Yarmouth Port, USA; and Global Ocean, London, 60pp.

    Erich Hoyt and Miguel Iguez 2008

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    This report is also available in Spanish and French.

    For more information or a downloadable PDF of this report in English, Spanish, or French,

    IISSBBNN: 1 901386 32 5Spanish version: 1 901386 43 0French version: 1 901386 68 6

    WWDDCCSS,, tthhee WWhhaallee aanndd DDoollpphhiinn CCoonnsseerrvvaattiioonn SSoocciieettyyBrookfield House38 St. Paul Street

    Chippenham, Wiltshire SN15 1LJ United Kingdomwwwwww..wwddccss..oorrgg

    WWDDCCSS is a company registered by guarantee. Registered in England No. 2737421. Registered CharityNo. 1014705. WDCS also has offices in Argentina, Australia, Germany and USA.

    IInntteerrnnaattiioonnaall FFuunndd ffoorr AAnniimmaall WWeellffaarree ((IIFFAAWW))International Headquarters

    290 Summer StreetYarmouth Port, MA 02675-1734


    IIFFAAWW has offices in Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Dubai, France, Germany, India, Japan, Kenya,Mxico, the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. IFAW's Latin American office is

    Tecoyotitla No. 274, Colonia Florida, Delegacion Alvaro Obregon, CP 01030, Mxico DF, Mxico.

    GGlloobbaall OOcceeaann is a non-profit organisation based in the UKwwwwww..gglloobbaalloocceeaann..eeuu

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    Introduction 9Boat-based Whale Watching 9Land-based Whale Watching 11Whale Watch Communities 11Whale Festivals 12Whale Watch Workshops 14Regional Economic Impact Assessment 18

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    Mxico 20Case Study 1. Whale Watching in the Lagoons of Baja 24Guatemala 25Belize 26El Salvador 27Honduras 28Nicaragua 29Costa Rica 30Panam 32Colombia 33Venezuela 35Ecuador 37Per 40Case Study 2. The Peruvian Experiment: Blueprint for Creating New Whale Watching in Coastal Per 41Bolivia 43Guyana 43Suriname 44French Guiana 45Brazil 45Uruguay 48Argentina 49Case Study 3. Puerto Pirmides, Argentina: Wind-swept Whale Watch Town 52Chile 53Case Study 4. Antarctic Whale Watching Tourism: Capturing the Antarctic Market 55

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  • Executive Summary

    In local communities throughout Latin America,whale watching is making a vital socioeconomiccontribution. It has been nearly 10 years sincewhale watching has been assessed throughout thisregion (for the year 1998, in Hoyt 2001), althoughindividual countries and communities are makingtheir own important assessments in Argentina,Mxico, Costa Rica and Venezuela. The presentstudy has collected and analyzed data from a widevariety of sources, including surveys, to present adetailed picture of whale watching numbers,expenditure and socioeconomic benefits in eachcountry within the region.

    In summary, whale watching in Latin America hasshown strong, steady growth since 1998, increasingat an average rate of 11.3% per year (1998-2006).This is three times the rate of world tourism and4.7 times the rate of Latin American tourism overapproximately the same period. Currently, 885,679people per year are going whale watching in LatinAmerica, spending USD $79.4 million in directexpenditure (ticket prices) and USD $278.1 millionin total expenditure.

    However, according to surveys conducted by MarisolRivera and her colleagues (2007) at four key whalewatch locations in Mxico, tourists would be willingto pay substantially more for their whale watch tours.These "willingness to pay" studies are important interms of identifying the "consumer surplus" which is away to estimate how valuable whale watching is,beyond the basic tourist expenditure. At Laguna SanIgnacio, for example, whale watchers said they werewilling to pay USD $100 for a tour that only costthem USD $40, giving a substantial consumer surplusof USD $60 per whale watcher. A consumer surplusof more than twice the actual cost of a whale watchtrip was also found in Massachusetts, USA, in 1996.

    The tourist expenditure on whale watching goes to 91communities in 18 countries, nearly all of which areoutside the main cities and industrial centers of LatinAmerica. In 1998, there were only 56 communitiesoffering whale watching in 8 countries attracting376,484 people, so the 2006 numbers show strong,steady growth. There are at least 786 whale watchoperations using a minimum of 1,189 boats of allsizes, an average of 1.5 boats per operator.

    In addition to whale watch tours, whale festivalsand workshops are being held all across LatinAmerica. There are currently 12 annual festivals in5 countries, attracting 46,000 people and bringingin an estimated USD $1,995,200. In 2006-07, 22

    workshops related to whale watching were alsoheld, costing USD $216,433.

    Argentina currently has the most whale watchers,244,432 per year, followed by Brazil (228,946),Mxico (169,904), Costa Rica (105,617) andEcuador (42,900).

    In the decade since whale watching numbers in LatinAmerica were last recorded (1998), the cumulativetotal number of whale watchers in Latin America hasreached an estimated 6.4 million people.

    Five countries in Latin America experienced veryrapid double digit annual growth over the period1998 to 2006: Costa Rica (74.5%), Chile (19.5%),Ecuador (17.8%), Colombia (17.6%) and Argentina(14.3%).

    In one country, Costa Rica, with 74.5% averageannual increase between 1998 and 2006, growth wasso rapid as to produce concerns about possible futureoversupply, price wars and too many boats aroundwhales. It will require careful management. With theexception of a few areas in Argentina, Ecuador andMxico, whale watching is still relatively young inLatin America and much has been learned by seeingthe positive examples of Pennsula Valds, Argentina,and the gray whale lagoons of Mxico, as well as themistakes in North America and elsewhere.

    The whale watch opportunities in Latin America areoutstanding and diverse: blue whales off Chile andMxico; southern right whales nudging the shoresoff Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil; and rivers andnearshore waters all over the continent populatedwith various dolphins. Some 64 species of whales,dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) - 75% of the 86known cetacean species - are found around LatinAmerica and most of them are the subject of one ormore whale watch tours.

    More than in most areas around the world, whalewatching in Latin America is managed within marineprotected areas (MPAs). All the countries haveresearch programs, many of them photo-ID and othertypes of research associated with whale watchoperations. Seven countries have whale watchregulations. Thirteen countries are members of theInternational Whaling Commission (IWC) and manyof them have delegates who contribute actively onwhale watching and whale and dolphin research. AllLatin American countries (with the exception of theterritory of French Guiana) have signed theConvention on Biological Diversity (CBD) whichadvocates the sustainable use of wildlife resourcesthrough whale watching and other wildlife tourism.


  • Senior Author's Note andAcknowledgmentsThe numbers presented in this report are bestestimates based on data collected from operators,tourism ministries and researchers. As much aspossible, multiple sources were obtained to verifynumbers, although often the numbers werecontradictory. The "comfort zone" with the data isthat every effort has been made to presentconservative numbers. Thus, the numbers reportedrepresent a reasonable minimum estimate of thecurrent level of whale watching activity and the grossoutput or turnover of the industry in Latin America.

    It is important at the outset to say what this reportis not. It is not intended to present the totaleconomic value of whale watching. To do that, itwould be necessary to account for costs in theindustry, including expenses and loss of opportunity,termed opportunity costs, and to look at how whalewatching has affected every sector of localeconomies. Only a few such studies have beenundertaken in individual communities (e.g., inMxico) and they are cited. Instead this report triesto estimate the growth of whale watching in theregion, benchmarked against previous reports,based on the numbers of whale watchers. Inaddition, as an indication of the importance ofwhale watching in each area, calculations are madeof direct expenditure (the number of tickets sold)and indirect expenditure (considered to be the non-ticket expenditure incurred in order to go whalewatching). The definition used here for indirectexpenditure differs from that generally used ineconomic research. However, going back to the firstreports on whale watching in the early 1980s,indirect expenditure has been defined in this narrowway for whale watchers. For consistency, we havekept that definition. The total expenditure fromwhale watchers is an indication of gross expenditurefrom whal