A responsible future for whales in tourism

When done responsibly, whale watching contributes to the protection and conservation of whales and their natural habitat. Learn how to contribute.
A responsible future for whales in tourism

Achieving sustainability by improving animal welfare

Responsible whale and dolphin watching tours can be incredibly rewarding. They provide the perfect opportunity for delivering messages. About conservation, protection, and sustainability to travellers. They thereby offer a better experience than seeing whales and dolphins in captivity.

All living species are connected. The welfare of people depends entirely on the welfare of ecosystems in which we live. And on our collective ability to protect them! Animals play a critical part of our global systems.

For example, whales retain carbon in the ocean and help to reduce the effects of climate change. Climate change as we all know, is a real threat to the tourism industry and protecting wildlife. Thereby, their natural habitat is crucial for your business offerings.

How do whales retain carbon in the ocean?

There are different mechanisms. One mechanism is that whales provide phytoplankton (which absorb carbon) with necessary nutrients. Fish and other marine animals eat the phytoplankton. And then deposit the stored carbon in the form of faecal pellets on the bottom of the ocean.

Whales and dolphins in tourism

Over the years, animal attractions have become increasingly popular within tourism destinations. Seeing wild animals when travelling is a memorable part of any travel experience. When done responsibly, these experiences can play a major role in protecting wildlife and their natural habitats.

Unfortunately, many experiences have a known harmful welfare impact and even exploit animals. Even when enjoying whales and dolphins in an authentic way (in the wild), there are animal welfare and conservation concerns. Mainly regarding the disturbance in their natural habitat by approaching them too closely.

Positive impacts of Whale Heritage Sites

The importance of Whale Heritage Sites

Whale Heritage Sites (WHS) recognise destinations for responsible whale and dolphin watching. They provide the tourism industry with ways to identify and support sustainable practices.

These sites are crucial for responsible whale and dolphin tourism. They identify areas where a lot of whales and dolphins reside. They also help tour operators identify the best areas. Those engaged in conservation, education and cultural celebrations of whales and dolphins.

The sites have extensive measures in place to protect wildlife, humans, the planet and your business. Offering whale watching excursions in a WHS site ensures a responsible travel experience. It offers the opportunity to truly experience wildlife!

“If done responsibly, tourism is in the position to create a better life for whales and dolphins”

Current Whale Heritage Sites

An initial pair of sites, The Bluff, South Africa, and Hervey Bay, Australia, were designated in 2019. Thereby, Dana Point, and the first European region of Tenerife, Spain, were also named a Whale Heritage Site in 2021. Seven more candidate sites globally are currently under review for certification.

The Whale Heritage Sites certification programme was established by the World Cetacean Alliance and is currently run in partnership with World Animal Protection.

Customer research by World Animal Protection

Consumer research undertaken by World Animal Protection showed that 80% of dolphin venue visitors prefer to see dolphins in the wild. In the Word Animal Protections global poll, 85% of travellers believe that tour operators should avoid activities where wild animals suffer.

5 positive impacts of Whale Heritage Sites

Below overview clearly shows the positive impact World Heritage Sites can create and how it helps your business. If done responsible, tourism is in the position to create a better life for the animals included in the experiences, local community and the traveller. You can make a difference!

Responsible whale watching

1. Provide your customers with an authentic wildlife experience

By offering whale and dolphin watching excursions in Whale Heritage Sites, you become part of a growing movement. A moment towards a world where whales and dolphins are no longer held in captivity for human entertainment. Where whales and dolphins are only viewed in the wild, responsibly and respectfully.

Thereby, you’re educating your travellers about the importance of sustainable practices. And the value of responsible whale and dolphin watching. One the one hand, you’re contributing for whales and dolphins to live in their natural habitat. On the other hand, you are offering your customers the ultimate authentic wildlife experience!

2. Protect wildlife and futureproof your business

By promoting ethical alternatives of captive wildlife, you help preserving these magnificent creatures. You also help protect their habitat for our future generations, which also helps you to continue your business. Make this ‘once in a lifetime experience’. Something your customers are able to revisit or pass on to their (grand)children

Guidelines for animals in tourism

Learn more about animals in tourism in our article.

3. Be recognised as a responsible whale watcher operator

Wildlife watching is increasingly popular. Unfortunately, dolphins and whales are too often disturbed in their natural habitat. Irresponsible tour operations can cause significant stress or injuries to wild whales and dolphins. For example, by:

  • Approaching too fast
  • Crowding with too many boats
  • Getting too close
  • Failing to inform customers about appropriate behaviour

Whale Heritage Sites ensure that all whale watching operations are responsible. Thereby also including the operators. The sites are audited periodically to maintain heritage status. If you notice a local tour company at the sites that might not fully comply with local regulations or with these guidelines, we encourage you to let us or WCA know, so we can inform the local WHS Steering Committee.

4. Stimulate the local economy

By visiting the Whale Heritage Sites, you help to create a strong economic value for local communities. You can thereby foster peaceful human-wildlife coexistence. These experiences take customers to a place where they can responsibly observe whales and dolphins in the wild. Protect them and their habitat and spread your impact and support locals and their economy. Help the local communities see the value of wildlife and share the benefits.

5. Contribute to wildlife research

Observing whales and dolphins in the wild can contribute to research if done responsibly. It helps us understand more about these marine mammals by providing platforms for research and education. It thereby helps the protection of whales and dolphins by offering an alternative to killing and capturing them. Combine whale watching with local research projects and involve your travellers.

The experience economy

Learn more about developing new travel experiences following the experience economy principle.


To be a responsible tour operator, it’s important to offer responsible travel experiences. Whale and dolphin watching responsibly is part of that. Use this article to identify where you can improve and do better. Also think about collaborating with local areas and applying for certification to become a Whale Heritage Site. Only by focussing on protecting wildlife and their natural habitat can we create a futureproof tourism industry.


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