Amid declining shark populations because of overfishing, a burgeoning shark watching industry, already well established in some locations, generates benefits from shark protection. We compile reported economic benefits at shark watching locations and use a meta-analytical approach to estimate benefits at sites without available data. Results suggest that, globally, c. 590,000 shark watchers expend > USD 314 million per year, directly supporting 10,000 jobs. By comparison, the landed value of global shark fisheries is currently c. USD 630 million and has been in decline for most of the past decade. Based on current observed trends, numbers of shark watchers could more than double within the next 20 years, generating > USD 780 million in tourist expenditures around the world. This supports optimistic projections at new sites, including those in an increasing number of shark sanctuaries established primarily for shark conservation and enacted in recognition of the ecological and economic importance of living sharks.