Whaling tradition along the Cantabrian coast: public perception towards cetaceans and its importance for marine conservation

Abstract

Whaling is currently a controversial practice and the focus of a relevant public debate. According to records, it represented an important socio-economic activity in the North of Spain from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century. The North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) was the main target species of this activity. As a consequence of the rising of whaling, the North-East Atlantic population of this species was severely depleted, and it has not recovered since then. This work presents a study on public perception of cetaceans and whaling along the Cantabrian coast (North of Spain) and evaluates the differences with respect to several non-coastal regions. More than 400 anonymous surveys were conducted in 12 study areas to examine knowledge about cetaceans and whaling, as well as attitudes and willingness to take action in whale and dolphin conservation. Results showed that whaling has a great cultural imprint on the Cantabrian coast inhabitants, which plays a relevant role in citizens’ perception. Participants from areas with whaling tradition demonstrated higher levels of knowledge about the history of this activity, but less positive attitudes with respect to cetacean conservation than respondents from inland provinces. Additionally, we observed that there are other influencing factors, such as gender or age. Our findings indicate that positive attitudes towards the protection of whales and dolphins are not always sufficient for citizens to collaborate for this cause. Therefore, an improvement in education programmes and awareness campaigns about the importance of protecting cetaceans and their environment is needed to achieve real and effective marine citizenship.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank all respondents for their anonymous participation. A. Garcia-Gallego holds a grant referenced DIN2019-010874 from the National Research Agency and L. Miralles holds a Torres Quevedo Grant (PTQ2018-010019) from the National Research Agency.

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The authors declare that this study was not funded by public or private grants.

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Correspondence to Laura Miralles.

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This article belongs to the Topical Collection: Coastal and marine biodiversity.

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García-Gallego, A., Borrell, Y.J., Nores, C. et al. Whaling tradition along the Cantabrian coast: public perception towards cetaceans and its importance for marine conservation. Biodivers Conserv 30, 2125–2143 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-021-02187-7

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Keywords

  • Public awareness
  • Public engagement
  • Whaling ports
  • Cultural heritage
  • Cetacean conservation