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“Explosive” whale watching realities communicated

Friday, 7 March 2014 12:50pm

Wiebke Finkler, Tourism PhD Candidate Wiebke Finkler, Tourism PhD Candidate

“Courageous, innovative research environment with inspirational people and ‘visionaries’”; ask Tourism PhD candidate Wiebke Finkler her opinion of Otago, and that’s her unrestrained reply.

Wiebke has a long experience of Otago to draw on when making such statements.

With a Biology degree from the University of Greifswald, Germany, Wiebke moved to Dunedin in 1999 to do an Otago Masters in Marine Science and a Postgraduate Diploma in Natural History Filmmaking and Communication. She spent 13 years in freelance filmmaking work, running her own business producing documentaries and science- and music-related productions, before working at Otago’s Centre for Science Communication for four years and successfully applying for an Otago PhD Scholarship.

The elements of effective content

Entitled “Save the Whales Part II: The Science Communication of Whale Watching.”, Wiebke’s PhD thesis is a study of responsible whale watching, and includes the production and evaluation of a whale watching Science Communication Commercial video, or short ‘SciCommercial’, a video brand she developed as part of her research.

"...high quality multimedia content and strategic planning processes lie at the heart of successful science communication."

Wiebke explains that, “high quality multimedia content and strategic planning processes lie at the heart of successful science communication. But what are the elements that make effective creative content and what are the steps to implement a successful applied science communication project? My research investigates this question by merging science communication with marketing communication set in the context of explosive and largely unmanaged growth of global whale watching and the failure of widespread sustainable practices.

Influencing perceptions and behaviour

“The lack of sustainability in whale watching in many parts of the world is, in part, due to poor uptake of science and ineffective public communication. [My thesis] explores the effectiveness of SciCommercial videos to influence people’s expectations regarding close encounters and the significant potential of SciCommercial videos to influence public perceptions and tourist behaviour.”

Based in the Department of Tourism, Wiebke was originally attracted to Otago in part for its excellent reputation for multidisciplinary research, which her topic certainly demands. Her “very supportive” supervisors hail from Otago’s Departments of Tourism (Professor James Higham) and Marketing (Associate Professor Robert Aitken), with an external Science Communication supervisor (Professor Bienvenido Leon) based at the University of Navarra, Spain.

Wiebke is due to complete her thesis in May, hoping to then gain postdoctoral funding to develop the SciCommercial video brand and science communication marketing area further and apply it to other communication related projects.