When Whales “Speak for Themselves”: Communication as a mediating force in wildlife tourism
The case study for this ethnographic investigation is communication within the highest concentration of whale watch operations in the world, located in transnational waters of the North Pacific. The author explores this Western cultural setting in an effort to expand upon the culturally and environmentally inclusive conceptual framework of communication as a mediating force of human-nature relations. The author finds that a range of study participants view communication as human-nature transactional. The interpretations point to ways in which Westerners in a wildlife tourism setting may value silence as communicative of a co-expressive existence with nature, may be frustrated by the limitations of culturally particular tools of language for conveying knowledge of or experiences with nature, may credit nature with “speaking” in ways that serve specific functions and may be used to justify tourism endeavors, and may position particular wildlife as icons that illuminate problematic human-nature relations or that isolate such wildlife from wider eco-cultural relationships.