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Whale shark affairs

April 11. 2013.

There are new controversial practices in the lucrative whale shark swimming business.

According to the Christian Post, there is a growing feud in a small fishing village in the Philippines between biologists and local fisherman after locals began offering tours to see and feed the huge whale sharks. Along the Tan-awan coastline on the island of Cebu, fisherman throw fish and shrimp into the water to draw the massive creatures close. The fisherman then let tourists snorkel or even scuba dive with the whale sharks.

But local conservationists and biologists say the practice should stop because it could potentially harm the animals by allowing them to develop unnatural and potentially harmful social habits. The local fisherman defend their practices as they do not want to go back to fishing: the work is easier and they earn more money. Animal rights groups say they understand the importance of tourism as a source of livelihood, but emphasize that it has to be done in a sustainable way in order to become a long-term possibility. They are evaluating the effects of tourism and feeding on the behaviour of whale sharks and hopes their research will help the local government manage whale shark tourism and minimize the environmental impact.

According to the Wildlife Extra in Kenya they plan to capture and keep some whale sharks in an enclosure. The idea proposed by Seaquarium: they want to transfer the captured whale shark to a shallow 600-meter-diameter enclosure, and charge tourists to swim with these sea leviathans. Seaquarium claims it will protect the sharks from illegal fishing and provide a captive breeding programme. But marine biologists think the plan is only about the money. As Dr David Obura said: "There is no evidence to suggest whale sharks are being actively hunted, or that numbers are declining as a result. I am concerned that the welfare of these incredible creatures is the last thing on the mind of Seaquarium. You cannot tell me that such a sensitive species which is known to migrate more than 3,000 kilometres in a year, and dive down to 1,000 metres, can be happily confined to a shallow netted pond in the sea, with no possible escape from tourist stress, no ability to feed naturally, nor seek out the natural conditions that suit it at different times of the year, nor socialize." He added the captive breeding is nonsense.

Aaron Nicholas, conservation manager for the Born Free Foundation, stated: "We hope that this project will go no further and that Kenya will retain its pre-eminent position in Africa as a country that does not exploit its wildlife, with a focus on the truly wild experience that draws millions of tourists each year to its parks and waters to the benefit of millions of people nationwide."

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