The Science Communication of Whale Watching: A People-Focused Science Communication Approach

Author: Finkler, Wiebke

Date: 2018

Publisher: University of Otago

Type: Thesis

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University of Otago


In 2014, UN Member States proposed a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including SDG #14 with its focus to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development (Le Blanc, 2015). Coastal tourism is the largest market segment in the world economy (Cicin-Sain, 2015) and whale watching is a worldwide multibillion dollar industry, attracting at least 13 million people every year (O’Connor, Campbell, Cortez & Knowles, 2009). Since the Save the Whale movement of the 1970s, whale watching around the world has experienced explosive growth, driven largely by economic imperatives and environmental marketing (Neves, 2010). Positioned in the realm of wicked problems, whale watching possesses high levels of scientific complexity and socio-political conflict, which has resulted in the widespread use of non- sustainable practices. The failure of sustainability is, in part, due to ineffective public communication of science and poor implementation of recommendations from scientific impact assessments of whale watching (Higham, Bejder & Williams, 2014). Reductionist binaries, in particular the predominant whale watching–whaling binary, hinder effective science communication in the whale watching setting by promoting whale watching as a benign activity equivalent to whale conservation (Neves, 2010). In addition, whale watching has been widely promoted as an ecotourism activity, which, it is claimed, raises environmental awareness and pro-environmental behaviour change, an assertion that has been largely untested (Orams et al., 2014). Furthermore, the positivist paradigm underlying natural science research presents a significant barrier to effective dissemination of the science of whale watching beyond traditional academic journal publications. When it comes to communication, the video format has fast become the most popular and effective communication channel for broad audiences (Shimp & Andrews, 2013). Yet, for the most part, scientists lack expertise on how to design effective science communication tools using science videos (Olson, 2009). The application of marketing communication techniques has the potential to contribute to sustainable tourism management through producing more effective communication of science. This study utilizes a pragmatic real-world mixed-method approach to present a critical analysis of the potential role of marketing-based science communication to support sustainable whale watching management. The research: (i) develops a conceptual format for science communication using video, termed a SciCommercial video format (ii) presents an analysis of relevant whale watching stakeholder insights from research focus groups, (iii) produces an original visual research element, the Good Whale Watching SciCommerical video, (iv) evaluates the video as a potential educational management tool for the whale watching setting, and (v) proposes a conceptual marketing-based people-focused science communication process, termed the SciCommercial Model. The proposed conceptual SciCommercial video format utilizes simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, science storytelling for more effective science communication in the whale watching context. The Good Whale Watching SciCommercial video, produced as the creative component of this research, was tested using an empirical online survey (N=1698). The results highlight the potential of the SciCommercial video format to serve as an educational management tool for the industry by influencing people towards more responsible whale watching consumer choice behaviour. The theoretical SciCommercial Model provides an integrated people-focused process to science communication and includes the SciCommercial video format as part of the communication strategy. Science communication has an important role to play in shaping sustainable consumer orientation around the world, as only informed and empowered members of the public can make sustainable consumer choices when planning to go whale watching. Hence, managing visitor expectations is a vital element of sustainable whale watching, and SciCommercial videos, as part of a visual rhetoric for science communication, can support the sustainable development of the industry.

Subjects: science communication, whale watching, filmmaking, marketing, Wiebke Finkler, science, tourism management, tourism, sustainable, responsible marketing, good whale watching

Citation: ["Finkler, W. (2018). The Science Communication of Whale Watching: A People-Focused Science Communication Approach (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy). University of Otago. Retrieved from"]

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