Managing whale-watching as a non-lethal consumptive activity

James E. S. Higham*, Lars Bejder, Simon J. Allen, Peter J. Corkeron, David Lusseau

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)
19 Downloads (Pure)


Marine tourism is a new frontier of late-capitalist transformation, generating more global revenue than aquaculture and fisheries combined. This transformation created whale-watching, a commercial tourism form that, despite recent critiques, has been accepted as non-consumptive activity. This paper uses four academic discourses to critique whale-watching as a form of capitalist exploitation: (1) commercial whale-watching and global capitalist transformation, (2) global capitalist politics and the promoted belief that whale-watching is non-consumptive, (3) the inherent contradictions of non-consumptive capitalist exploitation, and (4) whale-watching as a common-pool resource. These discourses lead us to critique whale-watching practices in relation to the common capitalist sequence of resource diversification, exploitation, depletion and collapse. Using specific impact studies, we conclude that a sustainability paradigm shift is required, whereby whale-watching (and other forms of wildlife tourism) is recognized as a form of non-lethal consumptive exploitation, understood in terms of sub-lethal anthropogenic stress and energetic impacts. We argue the need for a paradigm shift in the regulation and management of commercial whale-watching, and present the case for a unified, international framework for managing the negative externalities of whale-watching. The relevance of the issues raised about neoliberal policy-making extends beyond whale-watching to all forms of wildlife and nature-based tourism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-90
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Sustainable Tourism
Issue number1
Early online date21 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank A. Chatre, M. McPherson, M. Simpkins and several anonymous reviewers for their constructive reviews of this manuscript.


  • marine tourism
  • wildlife tourism
  • whale-watching
  • capitalism
  • sub-lethal anthropogenic stress


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