WHALE WATCHING A GROWING INDUSTRY IN TONGA

News Release

International Fund for Animal Welfare Vava’u, Tonga June 14, 2008

According to a new IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) report launched today, whale watching plays a major role in attracting tourists to the Kingdom of Tonga. The report shows that whales continue to contribute strongly to the country’s economy, with whale watching tourism generating almost US$2 million annually and increasing at a rate of 20 percent a year.

The research commissioned by IFAW and Opérations Cétacés found humpback whales bring significant economic benefits to Tonga, where 15 percent of GDP is earned through tourism and recommends that whales need to be protected and conserved.

Since hunting was banned by royal decree in 1978 The Kingdom of Tonga has become an important breeding ground for whales. Since the whales were protected, the whale watch industry has grown strongly with many tourism operators taking visitors to see these iconic species in their natural environment.

The report shows that in 2006 alone more than 9,800 people went on whale watching trips, representing an increase of 20 percent annually since 1998.

IFAW Pacific Officer, Olive Andrews, said "These important whales form the basis of the thriving whale watching industry in the region and are widely revered throughout the Kingdom of Tonga. Whales are clearly worth far more alive than dead."

"Responsible whale and dolphin watching is a win-win solution for whales and people in Tonga, and has the potential to provide important economic opportunities to the people who live there" she continued.

The report was officially launched at Tonga’s Tofua Day (National Whale Festival) taking place in Vava’u today. The festival coincides with the whales’ return to Tongan waters after spending the summer in their feeding grounds in the Antarctic and is a day of celebration with music, presentations of school art projects and dance groups.

Ecolarge, an independent economic research and consulting firm based in Sydney, Australia, prepared the report supported by IFAW, Opérations Cétacés (a marine mammal research organisation based in New Caledonia), Government of Tonga, SPREP (South Pacific Regional Environment Programme) and funding from FFEM (Fonds Français pour l'Environnement Mondial

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