AK - New Study Shows Economic Importance of Alaska's Whale-Watching Industry

Once hunted to near extinction, whales used to be an important resource for their blubber, meat, and baleen. More recently, they have proven to be more valuable alive.

Alaskan waters are rich feeding grounds for several whale species. They’ve also become an increasingly popular place for visitors to view these amazing creatures feeding, breaching, and socializing. Among Alaska’s 2.2 million summer visitors in 2019, about one quarter embarked on a whale watching tour.

According to a new study, more than half a million visitors—about 553,000 people—who came to Alaska last year spent an estimated $86 million on whale watching tours. This confirms that whale watching is an important economic driver.

The study was conducted by McDowell Group and funded by NOAA Fisheries. It measured the economic impacts of 55 businesses and 187 vessels engaged in paid whale watching tours in Alaska’s coastal waters from Ketchikan to Unalaska. Based on data from 2019, the study represents a pre-pandemic baseline:

  • Statewide, whale watching directly supported 850 jobs and $23.4 million in labor income
  • The multiplier effects of direct spending circulating in the Alaska economy resulted in an additional 255 jobs and $13.9 million in labor income
  • Statewide, industry employment impacts, including all multiplier effects, are estimated at 1,105 jobs and $37.3 million in labor income

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