The area still attracts tourists and travelers alike due to one attraction — the Butanding, Tiki-Tiki or Tuki in the local language. Though the gentle giants had been a main attraction these days, there are factors that would somehow make the traveler want to do a rain check.
Whale shark tourism is the most prominent form of shark-based tourism in the world, with global revenue estimated at US $47.5 million in 2004. Whale shark tourism first started at Ningaloo Reef (Western Australia) in the 1990’s. Today, the Ningaloo whale shark industry is valued between AU$3.2 and 6.2 million.
Whale shark tourism has since developed in other locations, including the Seychelles, Mexico, Belize, Mozambique, Maldives, and the Philippines. It is estimated that 100,000 people participate in whale shark tourism activities worldwide annually, paying up to US $350 for a single encounter.
Whale shark tourism is a lucrative industry. Visitors to Donsol in the Philippines, increased from 800 in 1998 to 7200 in 2005, generating an estimated annual income of US $208,000 in 2005. Whale shark tourism in the Seychelles is currently valued at US $3.08 million. In 2013, whale shark tourism in the South Ari Marine Protected Area (Maldives) brought in a whopping USD $9.4 million.
Pretty lucrative, right? We bet you are excited to see the gentle giants already. Here are some tidbits on the house rules when doing Whale Shark Watching.
- Do enter the water slowly from the boat into the water. Doing this won’t get the whale sharks disturbed and reduce stress.
- Do bring cameras without flash.
- Do wear Life vests before getting into the water. This is to ensure that you will be aided in swimming and for your own safety too.
- Do stay away at least 5 meters from the whaleshark when swimming. Touching or blocking the path of a whale shark may disturb the shark, alter its behavior, and compromise future research efforts.
- Do stay with a guide when swimming with the whale sharks. This is very important since the locals know exactly where the gently giants are. Also, the local guides will help in the event that the tourist or traveler will have issues in swimming like muscle cramps and the like.
- Do use organic and biodegradable water based sunblocks to a minimum. The sole reason for this is that most sunblocks manufactured are not reef friendly. Sediments will form as a by product and the water ph as well as the other marine life will be disrupted.
Now that we have presented the do’s, here is the other side of the coin that we can reflect on:
- Do not touch the whale shark while swimming. Since whale sharks surface to breathe, touching them might deliberately change their behavior. It is best to leave them untouched.
- Do not jump from the boat.This may be a reason for them to get disturbed. There might be a possibility that when you jump from the boat, you may jump directly into the whale shark since they are camouflaged in the water.
- Do not use FLASH when taking photos. Flash photography can be highly disruptive to whale sharks. Natural light is generally sufficient to take a proper ID shot.
- Do not touch or kick the corals. This is just a simple reminder for us that the corals are essential in the ecology of the area. Touching or Kicking the corals will cause them to break and will eventually die. It will take time for another coral polyp colony to propagate thereby increasing chances of creating imbalance.
- Do not take anything out from the sea. This follows the 4th Leave No Trace Principle, LEAVE WHAT YOU FIND stating to leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them. This is essential in maintain a healthy ecosystem underwater. Certain sponges filter the ocean water making them safe for marine organisms to thrive. There are types of shells as well that maintain a positive pH balance on the seawater, thereby allowing planktons and other types of marine algae to live and coexist with each other.
- Do not throw your trash in the sea. Last but not the least, this follows the 3rd Leave No Trace Principle, DISPOSE OF WASTE PROPERLY, that states to Pack it in, pack it out. This means that the seas are not your wastebin. Every trash is detrimental to our seas and wildlife. Turtles may mistake it for jellyfish. Filter feeding sharks may mistake it for krill and plankton, making them poisoned for it.
According to LAMAVE, the biggest challenges facing whale shark tourism include developing site-specific regulations and impact monitoring. If implemented successfully and consistently, such regulations and monitoring may provide a balance between maximizing visitor experience and minimizing the negative impacts on the animals. With the exception of Ningaloo Reef, whale shark tourism sites such as Belize, Mexico and the Philippines remain poorly monitored. Studies suggest this may cause significant behavioural changes in the sharks.
These house rules stated above are made for both tourist and travelers alike to follow. These were created to protect and conserve the whale sharks. Though we are in the era of whale shark tourism, we need to be very conscious on how it is done.
Itching to get to know the whale sharks better? Or do you know someone who wants to do whale shark watching? Do let us know! ? Call us and Let’s Talk! ?