Contact with nature and experiences with nonhuman animals have been shown to contribute to nature connection and human wellbeing, both of which are innate needs according to the biophilia hypothesis. This study explores what marine mammal encounters mean to people and how they affect connection to and understanding of nature. It was hypothesized that individuals who had wild random vs ecotour vs captive marine mammal experiences would report differing degrees of meaning and nature-connectedness. The paper draws on responses to three survey questions, two quantitative and one qualitative, by 625 predominantly Australian participants. Significant differences were found between the three types of marine mammal experiences on subjective meaning, with highest levels in the wild random, then ecotour, then captive experience. Similarly, participants with wild experiences were more likely to report that the experience had influenced their nature connection than those who had captive mammal experiences. The five themes of Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment that make up Seligman’s PERMA wellbeing model were used to inform thematic template analyses of the short answer responses and highlighted the relationship between wellbeing and connection to nature. Importantly, the addition of Perspective as a sixth theme captured the expressed changes in participants’ points of view and attitudes, including humans’ place in the world and their impacts. Collectively the results point to how, through nature-connectedness and wellbeing, marine mammal experiences can contribute to an ecocentric view and humans can realize their effects on nature and wildlife. A model is proposed for understanding how marine mammal experiences can facilitate the quest for human wellbeing and meaning.
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