Whale Watching Tour Operator Career Profile

Do you want to work as a whale watching tour operator?

READ: This page helps you to read about the career and the info you need to decide on whether this is indeed the career you want to follow.

RESEARCH: ​Learn about the skills required and minimum subjects to enter this career, as well as the places where you can study further after school.

PREPARE: If you want to plan and prepare for your career, then join the OZT Community! Members have access to tools while chatting with other students and experts from around the world. Prepare to be amazed!


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11 July 2023

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What is a whale watching tour operator?

Whale watching tour operators use their knowledge and passion for whales (and in same cases dolphins, orcas and narwhals as well) to take tourists out on boats to experience these animals in their natural environment.

Whale 2

If you would love to work on the boat, but not own and run the business, then a noteworthy career of those working on a tour boat will be a Tour Guide.

Career Categories

The Whale Watching Tour Operator career can be found in the following career categories:

  • Business
  • Marine Conservation


Whale watching as a lucrative business started in the USA in 1955


The whale watching industry is worth over US$2 billion per year

What does a Whale Watching Tour Operator do?

Groups of animals a Whale Watching Tour Operator works with

Mammals List Icon OZT

What is the level of Interaction with the Animals?

What does a Whale Watching Tour Operator focus on?

The primary focus of Whale Watching Tour Operators is to use their boats to take tourists out to sea to experience whale or other cetacean species. The tours can make use of large double decked vessels, or even kayaks.

With who does a Whale Watching Tour Operator work?

Besides working with all of the whales etc, Whale Watching Tour Operators will need to interact with other people while doing their daily tasks. The people might include fellow staff members or the public.

Fellow staff might include:

  • Operational staff, such as Human Resources, Finance and Maintenance
  • Boat skippers and staff

What are the daily tasks of a Whale Watching Tour Operator?

  • Market existing tour plans to interested tourists
  • Discuss brief with tourists
  • Presentation to tourists about whales and conservation
  • Ensure the safety of all passengers
  • Create and add new work to a portfolio for future marketing and ticket sales
  • Ensure that licenses and legal requirements are in order
  • Clean and inspect boats
  • Manage staff working on the boats and in the office
  • Administration and filing

The Work environment of a Whale Watching Tour Operator

Where does a Whale Watching Tour Operator work?

Environment –

Tour Operators work mostly outdoors on the sea, with administrative work done in an office setting.

Places of Employment –

Whale watching tour operators work for themselves through an established touring business.

What is the average annual salary of a Whale Watching Tour Operator?

On average the income per year is around $75,000. This will differ from country to country, with larger companies generating over US$150,000 per year.

Can a Whale Watching Tour Operator be promoted?

Advancement in the ranks typically depends on work experience and whether you are working as an employee, or own your own business. First year operators often begin on a part-time basis, fitting their training commitments around other work demands. Promotion to senior levels might differ from organization to organization, but generally are the following:

Intern > Junior Boat Staff Member > Junior Guide > Senior Guide > Tour Operator or Lead

What are the difficulties a Whale Watching Tour Operator faces?

Tour operating is seasonal and dependent on tourists. Slow seasons can see a drop in income. Operators can work long hours and over weekends. Weather out at sea can get unpredictable.

​Future growth and Possibilities

The industry keeps on growing, but with only a few good whale watching spots around the world, the competition can get fierce.

Availability of Jobs


Which Skills does a Whale Watching Tour Operator require?

The skills required for a career as a whale watching tour operator can be divided into two very important groups. The first is the group containing life skills, which are the core skills that are necessary or desirable for full participation in everyday life. The second group is career skills, or the specific skills required to allow a person to enter and operate effectively within a specific career. Some or maybe even all of the life skills can assist in strengthening the career skills, and they might even be the same for specific careers.

  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Critical thinking
  • Creative thinking
  • Decision making
  • Problem Solving
  • Effective communication
  • Interpersonal relationship
Life Skills
  • Good business knowledge
  • Good boating skills
  • Basic customer service skills
  • Good health and physical fitness
  • Excellent computer literacy
Career Skills

Which Subjects must I have at School to help prepare for this Career?

The subjects you choose at school are important as they lay the foundation for further studies at college or university. While still at school, it’s also important to learn more about the animals you will work with, as well as gain some experience.

OZT has a list of various tertiary institutions where you can study further, after school. Each of these institutions also have their own Group page on OZT where you will find the exact subjects they require of you to have passed in school. Keep these requirements in mind, and discuss it with your school, guidance counselor and parents to ensure that you are prepared!

What will I need to Study to become a Whale Watching Tour Operator?

Minimum Requirements

The minimum required educational qualification is a High School Certificate, but most of the top operators do have at least a College diploma.

Study Focus

Major –

A College diploma in Marine Biology, Marine Conservation, Marine Science or Zoology.

Short Courses –

Business management, marketing, web designing, and nautical studies (skipper training).

Study Duration

The duration of College and Bachelor’s Degrees can be up to 3 or 4 years. Short Courses are usually between a few weeks and a year.

Possible Career Preparation Paths

If this is your dream career that you want to pursue, then it’s important to plan the way forward.

Why is planning important?

​To ensure that you understand the requirements for your career, and that you are always prepared for the next step on the road towards your dream. A Preparation Path is like your road map to where you want to be.

Possible Paths:

Possible Combined Career Paths

It is possible to sometimes combine two or more related careers. This normally happens when you study and practice a specific main career, but the knowledge and experience gained also help you to have a paying hobby or secondary income career.

Possible Alternatives (there are a lot more):

Stepping Stone Career

Being a whale watching tour operator, or working on one of their boats, can also be used as a stepping stone career. A stepping stone career is one which is used to help you get to another career, normally because the other career is too difficult to reach (sometimes due to things like high fees etc).

You can begin as an operator or guide after basic short courses and expert guidance (maybe working under a mentor). The money made can then be used to pay for studies towards a promotion or another career, and the experience helps in gaining knowledge. One paying to help get to the other.

Some of the possible paths:

Training and apprenticeship

Even though it is important to study to get into some of the animal careers, most of the skills you will need as a operator will be acquired through practice. This means that you will learn how to perform some of the daily tasks by actually doing it a few times and learning the steps.

In some cases entry level operators require training sessions even before you are allowed to actually perform your job duties. These sessions are offered by the place of employment, after you have successfully applied.

Apprenticeship is also possible where you need to learn skills from a more senior operator or boating expert.

Join the Whale Watching Tour Operators Group in the OZT Community to learn more and even interact with the educational institutions that will help you secure your dream career!

Average level of education of all the people who enter the career:

High School Certificate 0%
Diploma or Short Courses 0%
Degree or Higher Studies 0%

Licenses, Certificate, Registration and Professional Associations

Certain animal careers require some form of legal certification to prove that you can indeed do the work, and work with the necessary equipment.

Certifications may be required by law, and help workers establish their credentials and enhance their skills.

Learn more about requirements by joining the OZT Community.

Where can I study further?

All of the above information will help you understand more about the Career, including the fact that there are different paths to take to reach it. But if you are almost done with High School (Grades 11 or 12), you also need to start thinking about further studies, and WHERE you will study.

See the List of Universities, Colleges and Online Training Academies who offer courses towards handling a boat and tour guiding.

Do you want to Contribute?

Do you have information that you would like to contribute to this career?

My Story




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Join the OZT community & chat Group

Join us as a special member and learn more about becoming a whale watching tour operator.

Members of the Platform have special access to:

  • Info on the best places where you can study (colleges, universities and online)
  • Expertly designed advice to prepare you for the career, and links to places where you can gain valuable experience. For some career experience is necessary, otherwise you wont get the job!
  • Top notch info on each of the different species you will work with
  • Make friends around the world and share knowledge
  • Compete and win points, badges, games, prizes and certificates. Be the best of the best, while you learn and prepare!

If you have decided on being a Whale Watching Tour Operator, please click on the JOIN GROUP button. Members will be directed to the Group, while non-members will be assisted to register first.

If this career is NOT the career for you, then you may return to the MAIN CAREER menu, and search for something different.

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