The non-consumptive economic value of wildlife: the case of three cetacean species




common dolphin, killer whale, long-finned pilot whale, Mediterranean, whale-watching, wildlife economic valuation


The conservation of wildlife is one of the most pressing issues in the current times, but wildlife conservation economic values have often been largely ignored due to an absence of market prices, as setting an economic value on biodiversity or whole ecosystems can be challenging. Nevertheless, valuing wildlife can be of great significance to improve decision-making in the conservation field, as it can provide a complementary perspective based on economic principles. Whale-watching provides an opportunity for the economic valuation of wildlife. Specifically, it offers a framework in which the economic revenue allows the economic valuation of the targeted cetaceans to be estimated through the direct and indirect expenditure of the tourists who purchase whale-watching tours. Here, we performed an economic analysis based on population abundances of the three main species targeted by the whale-watching companies in the Strait of Gibraltar (Spain): long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas), common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) and killer whales (Orcinus orca). These species generated a total annual income of €4,089,056, €1,876,833, and €505,389, respectively, and each individual would generate an average of €14,048, €951, and €36,099 each year, respectively. Incorporating life expectancy, this corresponded to a total population value of €112,426,185, €16,685,147, and €19,171,107, respectively, over their lifetime. These values provide an idea of the potential contribution of cetaceans to the local economy but only represent their non-consumptive value based on tourism. Our results reinforce the idea that a sustainable, high-quality whale-watching culture, under ACCOBAMS High-Quality Whale-Watching requirements, should be promoted to ensure a sustainable industry, stable economic income and the viability of cetacean populations in the Strait of Gibraltar.


Download data is not yet available.


Álava J.J., Barragán M.J., Denkinger J. 2012. Assessing the impact of bycatch on Ecuadorian humpback whale breeding stock: A review with management recommendations. Ocean Coast. Manag. 57: 34-43.

Barnes J. I., Schier C., Van Rooy G. 1999. Tourists’ willingness to pay for wildlife viewing and wildlife conservation in Namibia. S. Afr. J. Wildl. Res. 29: 101-111.

Bearzi G. 2012. Delphinus delphis (Mediterranean assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012:e.T134817215A195829089.

Bearzi G., Agazzi S., Gonzalvo J., et al. 2008. Overfishing and the disappearance of short-beaked common dolphins from western Greece. Endanger. Species Res. 5: 1-12.

Beaumont N.J., Austen M.C., Mangi S.C., Townsend M. 2008. Economic valuation for the conservation of marine biodiversity. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 56: 386-396.

Bejder L., Samuels A., Whitehead H., Gales N. 2006. Interpreting short-term behavioural responses to disturbance within a longitudinal perspective. Anim. Behav. 72: 1149-1158.

Bentz J., Lopes F., Calado H., Dearden P. 2016. Enhancing satisfaction and sustainable management: Whale-watching in the Azores. Tour. Manag. 54: 465-476.

Bruno M., Alonso J. J., Cózar A., et al. 2002. The boiling-water phenomena at Camarinal Sill, the Strait of Gibraltar. Deep-Sea Res. II: Top. Stud. Oceanogr. 49: 4097-4113.

Burns G.L., Howard P. 2003. When wildlife tourism goes wrong: a case study of stakeholder and management issues regarding Dingoes on Fraser Island, Australia. Tour. Manag. 24: 699-712.

Campbell L.M., Smith C. 2006. What makes them pay? values of volunteer tourists working for sea turtle conservation. Environ. Manage. 38: 84-98.

Carbó-Penche M., Salazar-Sierra J.M., de Stephanis R., Esteban R. 2007. Socio-economic analysis of the whale-watching industry in Andalucia, Spain. In Proceedings of the 21st Annual Meeting of the European Cetacean Society. San Sebastian, April (Vol. 22).

Carrera M., Favaro E., Souto A. 2008. The response of marine tucuxis (Sotalia fluviatilis) towards tourist boats involves avoidance behaviour and a reduction in foraging. Anim. Welf. 17: 117.

Chao A., Lee S., Jeng S. 1992. Estimating population size for capture-recapture data when capture probabilities vary by time and individual animal. Biometrics 48: 201-216.

Chapagain B.P., Poudyal N.C., Watkins C. 2020. A travel cost analysis of elk-viewing opportunity generated from an elk reintroduction project in Tennessee. Hum. Dimens. Wildl. 27: 84-91.

Charnov E.L. 1993. Life history invariants: Some explorations of symmetry in evolutionary ecology. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Corkeron P.J. 1995. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Hervey Bay, Queensland: behaviour and responses to whale-watching vessels. Can. J. Zool. 73: 1290-1299.

Corkeron P.J. 2004. Whale-watching, iconography, and marine conservation. Conserv. Biol. 18: 847-849.

David-Negre T., Hernández J.M., Moreno-Gil S. 2018. Understanding tourists’ leisure expenditure at the destination: a social network analysis. J. Travel Tour. Mark. 35: 922-937.

de Groot R.S., Fisher B., Christie M., et al. 2010. Integrating the ecological and economic dimensions in biodiversity and ecosystem service valuation. In: The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB): Ecological and Economic Foundations, pp. 9-40. Earthscan, Routledge, London.

de Stephanis R., Cornulier T., Verborgh P., et al. 2008a. Summer spatial distribution of cetaceans in the Strait of Gibraltar in relation to the oceanographic context. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 353: 275-288.

de Stephanis R., García-Tíscar S., Verborgh P., et al. 2008b. Diet of the social groups of long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) in the Strait of Gibraltar. Mar. Biol., 154: 603-612.

Dicken M.L. 2010. Socio-economic aspects of boat-based ecotourism during the sardine run within the Pondoland Marine Protected Area, South Africa. Afr. J. Mar. Sci. 32: 405-411.

Echevarría F., Lafuente J.G., Bruno M., et al. 2002. Physical-biological coupling in the Strait of Gibraltar. Deep-Sea Res. II: Top. Stud. Oceanogr. 49: 4115-4130.

Elejabeitia C., Urquiola E., Verborgh P., de Stephanis R. 2012. Towards a sustainable whale-watching industry in the mediterranean sea. In: Rosalino L. M., Silva A., Abreu A., (eds), New trends towards Mediterranean tourism sustainability. Nova Science Publishers. ISBN: 978-1-62257-627-2.

Esteban R., Verborgh P., Gauffier P., et al. 2013. Identifying key habitat and seasonal patterns of a critically endangered population of killer whales. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. 94: 1317-1325.

Esteban R., Verborgh P., Gauffier P., et al. 2016a. Using a multi-disciplinary approach to identify a critically endangered killer whale management unit. Ecol. Indic. 66: 291-300.

Esteban R., Verborgh P., Gauffier P., et al. 2016b. Dynamics of killer whale, bluefin tuna and human fisheries in the Strait of Gibraltar. Biol.Conserv. 194: 31-38.

Esteban R., Foote A. 2019. Orcinus orca (Strait of Gibraltar subpopulation). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T132948040A132949669.

Foote A.D., Osborne R.W., Hoelzel A R. 2004. Whale-call response to masking boat noise. Nature 428: 910-910.

Forestell P.H., Kaufman G. 1996. Whale-watching in Hawaii as a model for development of the industry worldwide. In: Colgan, K., Prasser, S., Jeffery A. (eds), Encounters with whales.. Canberra: Australian Nature Conservation Agency.

Gallagher A.J., Hammerschlag N. 2011. Global shark currency: the distribution, frequency, and economic value of shark ecotourism. Curr. Issues Tour. 14: 797-812.

García de Pedraza L., Garcia Vega C. 1991. Características de los vientos en la zona del Estrecho de Gibraltar. Calendario meteorológico 1991. Publicaciones del Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia, Madrid, pp. 188 201.

Gauffier P., Verborgh P., Giménez J., et al. 2018. Contemporary migration of fin whales through the Strait of Gibraltar. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 588: 215-228.

Genov T., Bearzi G., Bonizzoni S., Tempesta M. 2012. Long-distance movement of a lone short-beaked common dolphin Delphinus delphis in the central Mediterranean Sea. Mar. Biodivers. Rec. 5: E9.

Giménez J., Gauffier P., Verborgh P., et al. 2011. The Bay of Algeciras: a feeding and breeding ground for common dolphins. In Abstract Book 25th Conference of European Cetacean Society, Cádiz, Spain.

Guinet C., Domenici P., de Stephanis R., et al. 2007. Killer whale predation on bluefin tuna: exploring the hypothesis of the endurance-exhaustion technique. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 347: 111-119.

Hoyt E., Parsons E. C. M. 2014. The whale-watching industry. Whale-watching: Sustainable tourism and ecological management, pp. 57-70.

Jakobsson K.M., Dragun A.K. 2001. The worth of a possum: valuing species with the contingent valuation method. Environ Resour Econ. 19: 211-227.

IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force. 2017. Final Report of the Workshop: First IMMA Regional Workshop for the Mediterranean, Chania, Greece, 24-28 October 2016. 29 pp. Available at:

Just E.R., Hueth D.L., Schmitz A. 1982. Applied welfare economics and public policy. American J. Agric. Econ. 64: 797-798.

Kareiva P., Tallis H., Ricketts T. H., Daily G. C., Polasky S. 2011. Natural Capital: Theory and practice of mapping ecosystem services. Oxford University Press.

Kirkby C. A., Giudice R., Day B., et al. 2011. Closing the ecotourism-conservation loop in the Peruvian Amazon. Environ. Conserv. 477 38: 6-17.

Loomis J.B., White D.S. 1996. Economic benefits of rare and endangered species: summary and meta-analysis. Ecol. Econ. 18: 197-206.

Lusseau D., Bejder L. 2007. The long-term consequences of short-term responses to disturbance experiences from whale-watching impact assessment. Int. J. Comp. Psychol. 20: 228-236.

Mangubhai S., Sykes H., Manley M., Vukikomoala K., Beattie M. 2020. Contributions of tourism-based Marine Conservation Agreements to natural resource management in Fiji. Ecol. Econ. 171: 106607.

Mace G.M., Barrett M., Burgess N.D., et al. 2018. Aiming higher to bend the curve of biodiversity loss. Nat. Sustain. 1: 448-451.

Magalhães S., Prieto R., Silva M.A., et al. 2002. Short-term reactions of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) to whale-watching vessels in the Azores. Aquat. Mamm. 28: 267-274.

Martín-López B., Montes C., Benayas J. 2007. The non-economic motives behind the willingness to pay for biodiversity conservation. Biol. Conserv. 139: 67-82.

Middleton V.T., Hawkins R. 1993. World Travel & Tourism Environment Research Centre Oxford Brookes University, UK. Tour. Rev. 48: 10-13.

Ministerio de la Presidencia 2007. Real Decreto 1727/2007, de 21 de diciembre, por el que se establecen medidas de protección de los cetáceos. BOE-A-2008-516.

Murphy S., Winship A., Dabin W., et al. 2009. Importance of biological parameters in assessing the status of Delphinus delphis. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 388: 273-291.

Neumann D.R., Leitenberger A., Orams M.B. 2002. Photo-identification of short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) in north-east New Zealand: A photo-catalogue of recognisable individuals. N.Z.J. Mar. Freshw. Res.

Notarbartolo di Sciara G., Aguilar A., Bearzi G., Birkun A., Frantzis A. 2002. Overview of known or presumed impact on the different species of cetaceans in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. In: Notarbartolo di Sciara (ed), Cetaceans in the Mediterranean and Black Seas: State of Knowledge and Conservation Strategies. pp. 194- 196. A report to the ACCOBAMS Secretariat, Monaco, February 2002.

Otis D. L., Burnham K. P., White G. C., Anderson D. R. 1978. Statistical inference from capture data on closed animal populations. Wildl. Monogr. 62: 3-135.

O’Connor S., Campbell R., Cortez H., Knowles T. 2009. Whale-watching Worldwide: tourism numbers, expenditures and expanding economic benefits, a special report from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth MA, USA, prepared by Economists at Large.

Parsons E. 2012. The negative impacts of whale-watching. J. Mar. Biol. 2012: 807294.

Parsons E., Warburton C., Woods-Ballard A., Hughes A., Johnston P. 2003. The value of conserving whales: the impacts of cetacean-related tourism on the economy of rural west Scotland. Aquat. Conserv.: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 13: 397-415.

Pérez-Jorge S., Gomes I., Hayes K., et al. 2016. Effects of nature-based tourism and environmental drivers on the demography of a small dolphin population. Biol. Conserv. 197: 200-208.

Pollock K.H., Nichols J.D., Brownie C., Hines J.E. 1990. Statistical inference for capture-recapture experiments. Wildl. Monogr. 107: 3-97. ISSN: 0084-0173.

Pons M., de Stephanis R., Verborgh P., Genovart M. 2022. Sharp decreases in survival probabilities in the long-finned pilot whales in Strait of Gibraltar. Mar. Biol. 169: 44.

Rasmussen M. 2014. The whaling versus whale-watching debate. Whale-watching: Sustainable tourism and ecological management, pp. 81-94.

Reeves R., Notarbartolo di Sciara G. 2006. The status and distribution of cetaceans in the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea, IUCN: International Union for Conservation of Nature. IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation.

Richardson L., Loomis J. 2009. The total economic value of threatened, endangered and rare species: An updated meta-analysis. Ecol. Econ. 68: 1535-1548.

Ring I., Hansjürgens B., Elmqvist T., Wittmer H., Sukhdev P. 2010. Challenges in framing the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity: the TEEB initiative. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 2: 15-26.

Roman J., Estes J. A., Morissette L., et al. 2014. Whales as marine ecosystem engineers. Front. Ecol. Environ. 12: 377-385.

Rossi-Santos M.R. 2016. Whale-watching noise effects on the behavior of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Brazilian breeding ground. Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics 27: 040003.

Salles J.M. 2011. Valuing biodiversity and ecosystem services: Why put economic values on Nature?. C. R. Biol. 334: 469-482.

Salvamiento Marítimo 2010. Informe Anual de Salvamiento Marítimo.

Samonte-Tan G.P., White A.T., Tercero M.A., et al. 2007. Economic valuation of coastal and marine resources: Bohol marine triangle, Philippines. Coast. Manage. 35: 319-338.

Schwoerer T., Knowler D., García-Martínez S. 2016. The value of whale-watching to local communities in Baja, Mexico: A case study using applied economic rent theory. Ecol. Econ. 127: 90-101.

Senigaglia V., Christiansen F., Bejder L., et al. 2016. Meta-analyses of whale-watching impact studies: comparisons of cetacean responses to disturbance. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 542: 251-263.

Shawky A.M., Christiansen F., Ormond R. 2020. Effects of swim-with-dolphin tourism on the behaviour of spinner dolphins, at Samadai Reef in the Egyptian Red Sea. Aquat. Conserv.: Mar. Freshw. 30: 1373-1384.

Subroy V., Gunawardena A., Polyakov M., Pandit R., Pannell D. J. 2019. The worth of wildlife: A meta-analysis of global non-market values of threatened species. Ecol. Econ. 164: 106374.

Swanson T.M., Barbier E. (eds) 1992. Economics for the wilds: wildlife, wildlands, diversity and development. Earthscan. ISBN: 1-85383-124-7.

Tenan S., Hernández N., Fearnbach H., et al. 2020. Impact of maritime traffic and whale-watching on apparent survival of bottlenose dolphins in the Strait of Gibraltar. Aquat. Conserv.: Mar. Freshw. 30: 949-958.

Timmel G., Courbis S., Sargeant-Green H., Markowitz H. 2008. Effects of human traffic on the movement patterns of Hawaiian spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii. Aquat.Mamm. 34: 402-411.

Tisdell C., Wilson C. 2001. Wildlife-based tourism and increased support for nature conservation financially and otherwise: evidence from sea turtle ecotourism at Mon Repos. Tour. Econ. 7: 233-249.

Tisdell C.A., Wilson C. 2003. Economics of wildlife tourism. In: Higginbottom K. (ed), Wildlife, Tourism, impacts, management and planning. Common Ground Publishing Pty.

Van Tonder C., Saayman M., Krugell W. 2013. Tourists’ characteristics and willingness to pay to see the Big Five. J. Econ. Fin. Sci. 6: 631-644.

Verborgh P., Gauffier P. 2021. Globicephala melas (Strait of Gibraltar subpopulation). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T198787290A198788152.

Verborgh P., de Stephanis R., Pérez S., et al. 2009. Survival rate, abundance, and residency of long-finned pilot whales in the Strait of Gibraltar. Mar. Mammal Sci. 25: 523-536.

Verborgh P., Gauffier P., Brévart C., et al. 2019. Epizootic effect and aftermath in a pilot whale population. Aquat. Conserv.: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 29: 820-828.

Verborgh P., Gauffier P., Esteban R., de Stephanis R 2021. Demographic parameters of a free-ranging deep-diving cetacean, the long-finned pilot whale. Mar. Mammal Sci. 37: 463-481.

Visser F., Hartman K.L., Rood E.J.J., et al. 2011. Risso’s dolphins alter daily resting pattern in response to whale-watching at the Azores. Mar. Mammal Sci. 27: 366-381.

Wearing S., Neil J. 2009. Ecotourism: Impacts, potentials and possibilities? Routledge.

Wearing S.L., Cunningham P.A., Schweinsberg S., Jobberns C. 2014. Whale-watching as ecotourism: How sustainable is it? Cosmop. Civ. Soc. 6: 38-55.

White G. C., Burnham K.P. 1999. Program mark: survival estimation from populations of marked animals. Bird study, 46(suppl.): S120-S139.

Whitehead H., Gowans S., Faucher A., Mccarrey S. W. 1997. Population analysis of northern bottlenose whales in the Gully, Nova Scotia. Mar. Mammal Sci. 13: 173-185.

World Tourism Organization 2020. Growth in international tourist arrivals continues to outpace the economy. World tourism barometer No. 18, all regions, 20th January.



How to Cite

Ouled-Cheikh J, Giménez J, Verborgh P, Jiménez-Torres C, Gauffier P, Esteban R, de Stephanis R. The non-consumptive economic value of wildlife: the case of three cetacean species. Sci. mar. [Internet]. 2023Dec.20 [cited 2024Feb.21];87(4):e077. Available from:




Funding data

Grant numbers LIFE07NAT/E/000732;LIFE02NAT/E/8610

Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad
Grant numbers CGL2011-25543

Most read articles by the same author(s)