Conservation benefits of whale watching in Juneau, Alaska
An increasing number of visitors to Juneau, AK, alongside a predictable population of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), has supported the substantial growth of its whale-watching industry. The industry provides benefits to the community through economic gains, while the experience can foster environmental awareness and support for protection of whales and the environment. However, the sustainability of the industry could be jeopardized if increasing whale-watching vessel pressure affects the health of its resource, the whales. This study investigates whether participation in whale-watching tours in Juneau, AK can support conservation of whales and the environment. Participant knowledge, attitudes, intentions, and behaviors were obtained from 2331 in surveys before, after, and six months after a whale-watching tour during the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Following a whale watch, the percentage of participants that indicated whale watching as a knowledge source increased (p = 0.022), awareness of guidelines and regulations doubled (p < 0.001), and strong support for regulations increased (p = 0.016). Six months later, these responses remained significantly higher than before the whale watch. Despite knowledge of distance threshold increasing after a whale watch (p = 0.003) and six months after (p = 0.021), getting close to whales remained an important factor in a participant’s whale watch. Participants had a higher likelihood of strongly supporting guidelines and regulations if they indicated that boats can have a negative impact on whales or were aware of guidelines and regulations. Lastly, participants that acknowledged negative effects on whales from boats had higher overall pro-environmental attitudes. This study indicates that incorporating messages that facilitate participant awareness of guidelines/regulations and the purpose of those measures can support conservation and protection of local whale populations through managing participant expectations and ultimately encouraging operator compliance.