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Reflections on the ecosystem services of whales and valuing their contribution to human well-being

Although whale ecosystem services have been scarcely explored in the academic literature, they illustrate many of the threats, trade-offs and decision-making dilemmas common to marine ecosystem services in general – climate change impacts, the ongoing need to provide remote communities with forms of sustenance, and the potential development of new economic sectors which are prosperous but undermine traditional ways of life. In this paper, the first evaluation is carried out of the ecosystem services specific to whales, involving (a) their classification using the established Common International Classification Ecosystem Services (CICES) framework, (b) an assessment of the most suitable methods for their valuation, and (c) implications for decision-making. Our findings are that whale ecosystem services belong to all three categories of the CICES classification and cultural services are the most common type. The most suitable approach for the respective valuation of each service depends on the local socio-cultural context, a fundamental ingredient in value formation, which can formulate on either an individual or collective basis. In the case of individual value formation, this paper recommends the use of economic information derived from non-market valuation techniques; for collective, non-monetary techniques are advised. Given the complexity of human-environment interactions, a pluralist approach to valuation is likely to be required, whereby decision-makers are informed about impacts to whale ecosystem services through a mixture of economic and non-monetary information. A logical consequence of value pluralism is the need for decision-support platforms which can satisfactorily integrate different types of information concerning ecosystem service impacts, evaluating these against multiple marine management objectives. The paper briefly reflects on the potential of Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis to fulfil this ambition, before discussing some of the current challenges and barriers which have limited the uptake of ecosystem services research in marine planning and decision-making.

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