There are different ways to value things, especially something as complex as a living being. Whales and dolphins are quite tricky to value as a lot of their value is non-market value (not linked to money) and so tends to be invisible unless carefully looked for.
If we disregard the destructive/ fatal use of whales and dolphins, the major economic benefits gained from whales and dolphins comes from tourism. People are fascinated by these intelligent and graceful animals and are willing to travel great distances to experience them up close. This type of tourism not only benefits the whale-watching businesses but also spills over to the communities that support the whale-watching and may boost other tourism as well by introducing people to the country. Of course this tourism must be approached responsibly with the correct attiude and guidelines to offer protection to the animals.
Even when people do not pay to see cetaceans, they still offer value to the people who see them. Many people use the ocean for recreation and find that a trip that includes the sight of a whale or dolphin makes the trip even more worthwhile. The cetaceans increase the value of the recreational experience.
Cetaceans also provide inspiration to people and often influence art, craft and stories, which is a value not often considered.
Whales and dolphins are responsible for the movement of nutrients in the ocean when they eat and excrete in different areas and when they die they provide nutrients to other animals. It is believed that dead whales which sink in deep water habitats are responsible for contributing a large amount of the total nutrients which supports the micro-organisms of the deep.
Cetaceans are also top predators and as such contribute greatly to the stability of the ecosystem of which they are a part. It is thought that these predators prey on other smaller predators keeping their populations in check and so protecting the prey populations from decimation. This is particularly useful to us in cases where the prey population is an important part of our fisheries. Little is known of the role cetaceans play in their ecosystem but it is known that in many ecosystems, the removal or damage to the top predator populations causes problems throughout the ecosystem.
Cetaceans are complex and intelligent animals which may provide us with many clues and a greater understanding of brain functioning in intelligent, social animals. They are already helping us to understand more about brain function, learning, culture and communication in the animal kingdom, including ourselves.
Intrinsic value is very high for a beautiful and intelligent animal such as a cetacean. They are of value because they exist, they are living beings, they are enjoyable to look at, they are some of the most intelligent animals on the planet. They are valued across the globe, even by people who may never see them, because of what they are and not because these people will gain anything from their existence except the knowledge that they exist in the world. It would seem a great loss to the world if they were not around.