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Economic Value

Endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales Add Minimum of $65-$70 Million to Washington State’s Economy—They Would Be Missed

Compiled by Sharon Grace


• Wildlife watchers spend nearly $1 billion annually in Washington, primarily in rural areas.

• In 2001, 47% of Washington’s residents participated in wildlife watching, compared to 16% percent in fishing and 5% in hunting.

• Wildlife watching activities support more than 21,000 jobs in Washington State, yield $426.9 million in job income, and generate $56.9 million in state and $67.4 million in federal tax revenues each year, based on 2001 data.

• The value of the overall whale watching industry in Washington State is worth at least $65-$70 million annually, with an average annual growth rate of 3%.

• An estimated 42 whale watch companies operate in Washington State, 22 of which are listed in Dun & Bradstreet’s Million Dollar Data base. The 22 listed companies generated $64 million in sales, by themselves.

• On San Juan Island there are 17 whale-watching and kayak-touring businesses.  Countywide, tourism is a $127 million industry.  “This is an orca-based economy,” says Jason Gunter, manager of Discovery Sea Kayak. He estimates that 75 per cent of his clients sign up to see killer whales. “People aren’t coming here to see harbor seals.  If there were no more orcas, this economy would collapse.”

“No fish, no blackfish.  That’s what the tribes and old-timers say and it’s true.  Without healthy runs of salmon and particularly Chinook, we simply won’t have Southern Resident orcas in the Pacific Northwest,” explains Michael Harris, Executive Director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, which represents 32 operators in Washington and British Columbia.  “We’ve got to put fish back in the water to save these whales, and that means habitat restoration.  We’ve seen already what the removal of the Elwha Dams have done, and we’ve seen what the Fraser River generates, even with all of its problems, because it hasn’t been dammed.  The PWWA is fully supportive of the removal of the Snake River dams, because we know that healthy runs of salmon coming out of the Columbia River system are a big reason why we still have this totem species.”

• Total estimated whale watch trips conducted by PWWA operators in 2014: 14,000 (13,562 at the end of October)

• Total estimated passengers in 2014: 400,000 (362,001 at the end of October)




Dean Runyan Associates, Inc., for the Washington State Department of Commerce, Washington State County Travel Impacts 1991-2009, data at pp. 13-14. (accessed 1/21/15.)


Elizabeth Barkley & David Batker (April 2004), Untold Value:  Nature’s Services in Washington State. (accessed 1/16/15).

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.  (accessed 1/18/15.)


San Juan County Economic Development Council, “NOAA No-Go Zone Proposal” Economic Impact Analysis (2009).  (Accessed 1/21/15.)


Soundwatch Boater Education Program, Whale Watching in the San Juan Islands, (2015) (accessed 1/18/15).  See also San Juan Islands Visitor’s Bureau, Understanding and Accommodating Visitors, undated.  (accessed 1/15/15).


Thayer Walker, Empty Sound, November/December 2009, Sierra Magazine.(accessed 1/15/15).


Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wildlife Viewing Recreation: Economic Stimulant and Habitat Protection Tool (2005). (accessed 1/21/15.)


Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Wildlife Viewing, Nature Tourism Benefits Washington Communities, p. 1, Dun & Bradstreet 1997 data. (accessed 1/20/15).

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