Tourism operators in Japan have launched an initiative to promote whale and dolphin watching in the waters off the country's many islands.
With figures showing the industry is growing at six per cent a year, the Japan Whale and Dolphin Watching Council held its first meeting in Tokyo this week.
There are now more than 200 operators in the whale and dolphin watching industry which campaigners say offers a positive alternative to the slaughter of the mammals.
They say the industry is burgeoning and with it, the promise of bringing much-needed cash to coastal communities.
One of the organisations taking part in this week's meeting in Tokyo is the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Marine campaigns manager Matthew Collis says tourism based on whale and dolphin watching is a positive alternative to whaling for coastal communities.
Mr Collis says the industry is homegrown with Japanese making up the majority of people on watching tours.
"That's why the tourism operators themselves have come together because they realise the value of that and the importance of that within Japan itself," he said.
"I think it's demonstrating that there's a new generation in Japan that doesn't look at whales as food but looks at them as living, breathing magnificent creatures that they are and that are far more fun to shoot with a camera than with a harpoon."
The keynote speaker at the launch, Erich Hoyt, a senior research fellow with the charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation, says Japan's national effort to promote whale and dolphin watching gives the operators the possibility of marketing internationally.
He says while the industry is very much homegrown, there is big potential to attract business from other parts of Asia and North America.
"[Rural areas and coastal ports] need a diversified source of income and this sort of tourism income will flow through to the local community
Erich Hoyt, Whale and Dolphin Conservation
"The economic benefits of whale and dolphin watching are that you have businesses that are operating generally in rural areas or coastal ports which are far from Tokyo," he said.
"[They] need a diversified source of income and this sort of tourism income ... will flow through to the local community.
"There are some really great examples in Australia and New Zealand of this happening and the documented economic benefits are really clear."
Mr Hoyt says a lot of people in Japan are ready to look at whales and dolphins in a new way.
Matthew Collis agrees there is a possibility Japanese can make the transition from whalers to whale watchers.
"Those very same people who operate in boats out of these fishing villages to go whaling have the same means at their disposal potentially for operating whale watching businesses," he said.
"We should remember that Australia was whaling up until 1978.
"The last whaling station was in Albany [Western Australia] and that was a town that was dependent on the whaling industry in many respects but now it is one of the main whale watching areas in Australia.
"The very same people who were operating whaling stations and whaling vessels converted to being part of whale tourism when Australia stopped [whaling]."