If you want people to care about the environment, give them a close call with a whale, turtle or dolphin.

University of Queensland (U-Q) researchers found that people had a powerful response to meeting a marine animal if it was not in captivity.

A research team led by Roy Ballantyne from U-Q School of Tourism has been studying the changes made by people in their daily lives after coming into contact with a marine animal.

Senior research fellow Jan Packer said people became more conscious of disposing of plastic bags, not flushing waste down drains and recycling.

They were still acting on this awareness four months after their visits, Packer said.

The team found up to seven percent of people made changes to their environmental behaviour after visiting turtle rookeries and after going on whale watching trips, according to an UQ release.

Those going whale watching were most likely to still be thinking green after four months, Packer said.

"At the sites where the animals are non-captive there was a more powerful response. People felt a sense of privilege being in the animal's own environment," Packer said.

"With whale watching, in particular, there was a bonding between the mammals and humans. People reported things like whales looking at them, being curious and approaching them. That had an emotional impact.

"We recommend to people who run these activities to try to build in an opportunity for people to process what they are seeing and being told and how to respond to it."