Attitudes toward Marine Wildlife

from the Attitudes toward Marine Wildlife Survey

Discovering an octopus at Catalina Island To understand how different people value the marine environment, and marine wildlife in particular, the USC Sea Grant survey included 35 questions to assess respondents' attitudes. Responses shed light on how different groups within the population perceive and value various marine resources, with a focus on marine wildlife. This section of Highlights presents findings about attitudes revealed by the survey and how attitudes differed across race/ethnic groups.

The survey's attitude questions were classified into two broad value categories: anthropocentric and biocentric. Within these designations, we identified ten specific attitudes. Respondents could "agree/disagree" along a scale from strongly agree (+2) to strongly disagree (-2), with no opinion coded as zero. Thus we could rate respondents' strength of agreement or disagreement with particular attitude positions.

Anthropocentric attitudes prioritize humans and value nature in terms of its benefits or costs to people. Specific anthropocentric attitudes are identified below, along with sample statements that illustrate the attitude.
Biocentric attitudes prioritize animals and nature and value the environment for its inherent value. Specific biocentric attitudes are identified below, along with sample statements from the survey.
Highlight: One focus of our query of attitudes was attitudinal changes from respondents' childhood to adulthood. Half the survey respondents indicated a change in their attitudes about animals and the environment. Of those, almost 90% recognized a shift from never thinking about protecting the environment as a child to thinking about environmental protection as an adult. Ninety-five percent of respondents indicated that as adults they had a better understanding of the need for humans and animals to live together on Earth, and that they recognized how important animals are to our ecology. When asked why their attitudes had changed since childhood, the number one response (50% of those who indicated an attitudinal shift) was that they know more about animals now that they are adults.

FOCUS: Overall Attitudes and Cultural Diversity

Overall, respondents expressed Environmental-stewardship and Aesthetic attitudes most strongly. Animal Welfare, Animal Rights, and Environmental-naturalistic attitudes were also moderately strong. In contrast, Utilitarian-dominionistic and Utilitarian-stewardship attitude scores were weak.

Differences in attitudes across racial/ethnic groups were notable, however (see figure below). The strongest contrasts were between Latinos and Asian-Pacific Islanders. Latinos were the most biocentric group overall, while Asian-Pacific Islanders were the most anthropocentric. Latinos had the highest overall Environmental-stewardship scores and also were more supportive of statements in favor of human-animal Coexistence. Asian-Pacific Islander respondents exhibited stronger Utilitarian attitudes than the other groups and were much less likely to support Animal Welfare statements. African Americans and Whites fell in the middle range of responses.

Highlight: Asian-Pacific Islanders were the only group that expressed strong Utilitarian-dominionistic attitudes. For example, 70% of Asian-Pacific Islander respondents strongly agreed with the statement that recreational fishing is acceptable regardless of whether one ate the catch, compared to 51% of African Americans, 42% of Whites, and 35% of Latinos who agreed with the same statement.

Sheet3 Chart 4
Mean Attitude Comparison - All Ethnic Groups

FOCUS: Latinos and Biocentrism

More than other groups, Latinos expressed biocentric attitudes. With respect to Animal Rights sentiments, for example, over three quarters of Latinos strongly agreed that the fate of individual animals mattered to them. Latinos were also far more likely to feel that marine animals should not be kept in aquariums because they have the right to be free (almost two thirds compared to only 22% of Whites, 32% of Asian-Pacific Islanders, and 40% of African Americans). Environmental-naturalistic attitudes were more mixed. While 30 percent of Latinos moderately or strongly disagreed with the statement that it was nature's way for whales to become beached, however unfortunate, this was higher than for the other race/ethnic groups. Over three fourths of Latinos strongly agreed that we should protect wetlands to allow seabirds their natural habitat, and two thirds strongly agreed that it was never okay to interfere with wild animals (compared to a fifth of whites, a third of Asian-Pacific Islanders, and just over two-fifths of African Americans).

POLICY IMPLICATIONS