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Blue Habits Phase 1: Evaluating Whale Watching's Potential for Behavior Change

We partnered with Stanford University to explore how whale watching can motivate pro-ocean behavior.

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Nature-based tourism (or ecotourism) is a powerful and yet vastly underused platform for motivating behavior change. Tourism is one of the largest industries in the world, and ecotourism is considered to be its fastest growing segment. Experiences in ecotourism are believed to create short-term spikes in behavior related to conservation and the environment, but the challenge comes in converting the spikes into long-term behavioral changes.

Our partners at Stanford University have previously studied methods to convert eco-tourists' post-trip spikes in motivation into specific environmental behavior changes (e.g., in Galápagos, California, and beyond). Together we are building on their studies and others to explore how Oceanic Society's California whale watching programs can effectively convert spikes in interest and caring about the ocean into tangible longer-term behavioral outcomes.

Phase 1 of this program is now complete. Download the final report from Stanford's Phase 1 research here, and read about the current phase, Phase 2, here.


Declining ocean health is a worldwide problem whose causes—including overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change—are diverse and difficult to quantify. Yet they all share a common cause: human behaviors. Simply put, people put too much in and take too much out of the seas. Fortunately, we have the power—individually and collectively—to improve ocean health by making simple changes to our daily habits. By taking action to reduce our personal plastic consumption, to make better seafood choices, to participate in beach cleanups, to reduce our carbon footprint, or to support ocean-friendly legislation, we all have the ability to improve ocean health.

How We Are Helping

In partnership with Stanford University, we’ve launched an innovative Blue Habits program that aims to develop and test tools and approaches that deliver measurable pro-ocean behavioral outcomes to a variety of audiences, and make those tools and approaches widely available. Blue Habits is grounded in the behavioral sciences, and draws on social science research, design, and technology to create systems that can change individual human behaviors.

Our initial audience is the nature-based tourism industry, a powerful and yet vastly underused platform for motivating pro-ocean behavior change, and an industry that we have been a part of since 1972. Our goal is to innovate, test, and refine a scalable approach to pro-ocean behavior change among nature-based tourists and to promote its adoption by travel operators worldwide, thereby reaching and engaging millions of people. In the future, we will work to adapt this methodology to target consumers in a wider variety of contexts, and to scale Blue Habits through strategic partnerships.

In the first phase of this program, completed in 2016, we collaborated with researchers from Stanford University who evaluated the potential of Oceanic Society’s whale watching cruises as a venue for motivating lasting pro-ocean behavior.

Results from the first phase of the Blue Habits program (which you can read about in the updates section below) are being used to inform our work in Blue Habits phase 2, which launched in 2018.

Click here to learn more about Blue Habits Phase 2.


Project Updates