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Going Beyond Ocean Awareness: Blue Habits (part 2/2)

By Brian Hutchinson

This is the second in a two-part series about our Blue Habits program and the results of our first year of research. Click here to read part one.

Passengers observe a gray whale on an Oceanic Society trip. © Chris Biertuempfel

Together with behavioral science and education experts from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education and Woods Institute for the Environment, we launched the first phase of the Blue Habits program in 2015. Titled "Blue Habits: Motivating lasting pro-ocean behaviors among Oceanic Society’s nature travelers and beyond,” the project set out to evaluate the potential to motivate pro-ocean behaviors among Oceanic Society’s 3,000+ / year whale-watch passengers in the San Francisco Bay Area. See part 1 of this series for more details.

During Phase I, Stanford researchers surveyed more than 400 Oceanic Society visitors who participated in whale-watching trips along the California coast. Data collection focused on three areas: visitor demographics; visitors’ experiences, knowledge, and motivations; and baseline conservation behaviors. Researchers also observed guide/visitor interactions and noted the primary aspects of the trips that prompted visitors’ affective engagement. Stanford researchers found that approximately half of the voluntary survey respondents were new to participating in a whale-watching tour, and that a majority of visitors were from California and reported a high level of education (i.e., graduate degree or higher).

Oceanic Society naturalist Pete Winch talks to guests about whale biology. © Chris Biertuempfel

The research also demonstrated that Oceanic Society’s whale-watching tours were, overall, very successful in educating and engaging participants. Viewing and learning about wildlife was consistently visitors’ favorite part of the tour and what they most frequently shared with others in their personal networks. However, while visitors reported learning a great deal about marine wildlife, they also reported learning less about marine conservation. Visitors only slightly agreed that they had gained a better understanding of marine conservation issues from the whale-watching experience; similarly, they only slightly agreed that they felt more strongly about marine conservation issues because of the tour. Not surprisingly, participants reported no change in a variety of environmental behaviors as measured before the tour and three months following the tour.

>> Download the final report from Stanford's Phase 1 research.

This clear opportunity to deepen our impact with our own whale watch clients is what led Oceanic Society to develop Phase II of Blue Habits, with the goal to more effectively motivate long-term pro-ocean behaviors.


Brian Hutchinson is Oceanic Society's vice president of outreach, co-founder of the State of the World's Sea Turtles Program, and program officer of the IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group. Brian holds a B.A. in zoology from Connecticut College, and has been working to advance global marine conservation for more than a decade.


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