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Who's watching whom? – an interdisciplinary approach to the study of seal-watching tourism in Iceland

Sandra M. Granquist, Per-Åke Nilsson
Journal of cleaner production 2016 v.111 pp. 471-478
Phoca vitulina, anthropogenic activities, case studies, distress, ecology, interdisciplinary research, society, tourism, tourists, wild animals, wildlife, Iceland
Due to increasing interest in wildlife tourism, there is a growing need to consider the balance between use and protection of wildlife. Mutual exchange and acceptance of research results between different academic disciplines, such as wildlife ecology and tourism research, has until recently been scarce. Absence of discipline-independent guidance on the management of wildlife tourism, in combination with a lack of knowledge-transfer from academia to society regarding how human impact can be reduced, may contribute to unintended disturbance of wildlife. Here we present a methodology, where use and protection constitute equal importance within wild animal watching, by showing how a synergetic gain of combining knowledge from different academic disciplines may occur and be implemented in order to decrease potential human disturbance on harbour seals (Phoca vitulina). Further, we suggest that improved transferal of interdisciplinary research from academia to industry increases understanding of the wildlife tourism industry and has the potential to change tourist behaviour and hence minimise disturbance of wild animals. We exemplify this possibility by combining results from two case studies derived from biology and tourism research. The aim of both was to study potential human disturbance on harbour seals (P. vitulina) during land based seal-watching. The combined findings indicate that more attention should be paid to understanding and communicating the types of tourist behaviour likely to cause distress.