Every Summer hundreds of hungry whale sharks appear at the surface off the Yucatan Peninsula seeking food. This drew thousands of tourists on over 200 boats heading across the islands of Contoy, Mujees, Holbox, and other Mexican resorts in Cancun.
Most of these tourists, equipped with their snorkelling gear take the opportunity to swim with these whale sharks which are up to 16 meters long. Health risks for sharks are still unknown. Tourists have nothing to be afraid of since these sharks are docile creatures and move slowly?feeding on plankton.
Nacho Peon, a whale shark tourism staff, said, ?Fishermen have long known about the whale sharks, but didn?t catch them because they used them as orientation in casting their nets.? He added that people knew that there were whale sharks around, plankton, and other fish species.
Records show that the first vessels came about 2002 across the northern islands of Holbox and Contoy up to the top of Yucatan Peninsula. The conditions were blissful at that time where there were only 3 or 4 small vessels with less than forty tourists every day.
These days, boats increased to about 200 in number loaded with up to 2,300 visitors. This has brought as high as $400,000 for the boat companies. Environment and Fisheries Ministry of Mexico confirmed that whale shark tourism generated at least 750 jobs.
Local fishermen called the whale sharks ?dominoes? due to its light spots at their backs and they became one of the largest tourist attractions in Mexican Caribbean between May and September. Sharks were easy to find since their dorsal fins and tails are at the surface of the water.
These Sharks feed on plankton and fish eggs and they thrive in tropical waters around the world. Some places used food to draw the attention of the sharks. This was not necessary across Yucata Peninsula. Rafael dela Parra, a Mexican marine biologist, totalled up to 420 sharks through an aerial survey done in 2009. According to dela Parra, ?It?s the biggest aggregation ever sighted worldwide,? he said.
Mexican authorities disclosed that they were planning to create ways to protect these sharks while giving local fishermen opportunities to continue earning, and improve the ?tourism industry.
Mari Carmen Garcia Rivas, present director of the national park, said that the challenge was to reduce the number of permits for whale boat captains, the number of boats, swimmers, and strict implementation of policies on the operation and conduct on the open seas.
1: Christian Jensen
2: Brian Gratwicke