Scientists Seeking Insights Into The Long-Term Effects Of Whale Shark Feeding Practices
Wildlife tourism is one of the fastest-growing segments of the tourist industry due to the rising possibility of up-close interactions with sharks and other creatures.
Due of this, Australian ecologists have traveled to one of the most famous locations in the world to look at how tourism is affecting the critically endangered whale shark population.
By evaluating their activity and metabolic needs, researchers from Flinders University and local Filipino researchers at Oslob in the Philippines were able to determine how the daily feeding schedules for the local whale shark population may have altered their physiology and behavior.
Operators employ 150kg to 400kg (331 pounds to 882 pounds) of bait to entice the remarkable creatures to the gorgeous spot, which is one of the world’s major whale shark tourist locations.
Researchers have discovered that extensive tourism at the site over the last 12 years has expanded the size of the shark aggregation and altered shark behavior, including “desensitization” to boat and human interaction.
Christine Barry, a researcher from Flinders University who is now doing her Ph.D. at Murdoch University in Western Australia, claims:
“By fitting 16 whale sharks with small accelerometers, similar to a fitness tracker, we found their daily movements and resulting metabolic rate increased by up to 55% in response to their quest for food at the tourism site.”
“Our bioenergetics model suggests that providing about 220kg [485 pounds] of food per day would be sufficient to offset higher metabolic rate driven by tourism.”
“However, the unknown long-term consequences of feeding whale sharks suggests that managers should focus on making changes to operating procedures to reduce the high activity we see at the site.”
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