CZAAWE Resource Article

Proximity and animal welfare in the context of tourist interactions with habituated dolphins
Abstract 
The long-term sustainability of wildlife tourism depends on integrating visitor demands with resource management, requiring an understanding of tourist motivation. Managing the conflict between access to the animals and welfare, however, may diminish the experience for tourists. This paper identifies trade-offs tourists are willing to make between access and animal welfare, associated with feeding habituated bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) in Monkey Mia, Western Australia. Using a choice modelling technique, we were able to determine monetary values of visitor experiences. Compared to the current guaranteed interaction with dolphins (and a daily resort entrance fee), respondents were willing to pay significantly higher hypothetical entrance fees to avoid a decrease in proximity to, or probability of, the dolphin interaction. However, negative impacts on dolphin welfare had a negative impact on visitor utility. Over 80% of visitors (n = 244) accepted management regulations resulting in decreased time with and proximity to dolphins, if those addressed welfare concerns and were communicated clearly. Thus, while visitors placed the greatest value on the proximity and predictability, they were willing to trade off these aspects if they improved dolphin welfare. We provide management suggestions based on these results.