Marine environmental education is a powerful mechanism for shaping human conduct and for enhancing quality of life. Regulation notwithstanding, sustainable tourism depends on sustainable education. Over the last several decades, whale-watching tourism has emerged as a nature-based business and leisure activity of significant proportions. Typically, whale watching brings together vessel operators and their crew, professional onboard naturalists or interpreters, and diverse categories of whale-watching clients or tourists. This compound interest in whales as (eco)touristic objects has led to campaigns for living marine resource management regimes that protect whales while optimizing the whale-watching experience. Preliminary survey research of whale-watching tourists in the San Juan Islands, Washington (USA) reveals that whale-watchers' expectations concern seeing whales and other wildlife, along with learning about the whales and the marine environment. Whale-watchers' evaluations of their experience confirm that onboard interpreters play two important and intertwined roles, helping to avoid disappointment if/when trip expectations are not met. As interpreters are successful as educators, educational and ecological objectives are achieved. As they are successful as social directors, social and business objectives are achieved. Implications of theses findings will be of interest to those in the whale-watching business and other forms of onboard tourism worldwide; those who aspire to be onboard interpreters; those who are whale watchers; and indirectly, to the whales.
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