New Publication


Wildlife tourism has experienced a shift from passive observations towards highly interactive encounters between tourists and wild animals. Tourist behaviour is influenced by the pursuit of ‘visual trophies’ for social media. More specifically, the ‘wildlife selfie’ phenomenon, which requires proximity to a plethora of animal species, may contribute to compromised tourist safety and harassment of wildlife. This paper explores the perceptions of swim-with wildlife tour participants regarding wildlife-focused user-generated content such as wildlife selfies in three different commercial encounter settings in the South Pacific. In-depth qualitative interviews and a thematic analysis of the data yielded two prominent themes: Tourists perceived human-wildlife interactions online as ‘a double-edged sword’, identifying animal welfare as a key concern. Such content was found to shape the decision-making processes of tourists and affected tourists’ perceptions, creating unrealistic expectations of wildlife encounters. Further, whale-swim participants were identified as non-selfie-takers/opponents, while seal swimmers and shark divers were somewhat supportive, actively participating in selfie-taking behaviour to provide proof to peers (‘to selfie or not to selfie’). Those findings indicate that a sound monitoring of the constructed human-wildlife relationship in the twenty-first-century media landscape with a focus on guidelines and regulations to ensure tourist safety and animal welfare is required.

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