Sea otter tourism in British Columbia: the effects of interpretation on the conservation attitudes and behavioural intentions of boat-based and aquarium visitors.




Poirier, Sarah Victoria

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Visitation to marine wildlife viewing tours has increased steadily in the last few decades. Despite concerns over negative impacts, one of the anticipated benefits to wildlife viewing is increased visitor support for marine conservation. In this study, sea otters were used as a case study to determine how wildlife viewing may alter visitor attitudes and behavioural intentions towards marine conservation. In particular, the effects of the inclusion of interpretation in marine wildlife observation were analysed. This study includes the experiences of marine wildlife visitors to boat-based tours in Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, as well as the experiences of visitors to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. A questionnaire was used to determine the importance of sea otters to wildlife viewing tours, how both aquarium and boat-based wildlife viewing experiences influence visitor learning, and what implications this has for marine conservation. Sea otters were found to be important incidentally-viewed species in the boat-based tours. Sea otters were oftentimes not the main draw, but visitors very much enjoyed their presence. The provision of interpretation on its own affected visitor attitudes and behavioural intentions. However, the most significant difference in the promotion of conservation attitudes and behaviours was when the observation of sea otters was coupled with interpretation regarding sea otters. The same trend was observed in both the boat-based tours in Tofino and the captive wildlife viewing at the aquarium. These results indicate that the most important role of the tour guide is in locating marine species, and providing targeted interpretation about the species during observation. Thus, marine wildlife tourism can increase overall visitor support for marine conservation through affecting attitudes and behaviours.



Sea otter, Tourism, Marine conservation, Marine aquariums