Latam whale watchers seen at 1 million in 2008

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Latin America’s whale-watching industry is flourishing, with revenues up four-fold in 15 years and the region’s whale tourists are set to exceed 1 million this year, a conservation group said on Tuesday.

Several Latin American countries, including Chile, which is hosting the annual International Whaling Commission meeting this week, are championing whale watching as an alternative to whale culls by the likes of Japan, Norway and Iceland.

On Monday, Santiago declared a permanent ban on whaling in Chilean waters and plans a whale sanctuary along its coastline.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare said on the sidelines of the IWC meeting that the whale-watching industry in Latin America had seen ticket sales worth nearly $80 million in 2006 alone, with overall related tourist expenditure of nearly $280 million.

By comparison, the global whale-watching industry brings in around $1 billion a year in revenues across some 90 countries.

“This is a sustainable industry that benefits coastal communities socioeconomically, educationally and environmentally for years to come,” said Beatriz Bugeda, the fund’s director for Latin America.

There are 64 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises in Latin America’s waters, which represent around 75 percent of the world’s 86 known cetacean species.

Reporting by Rodrigo Martinez, Writing by Simon Gardner, Editing by Sandra Maler