Picture the moment: you’re finning your way just below the ocean’s warm surface waters when you catch your first glimpse of a majestic shape gliding towards you – 12 metres long, yet completely docile – and time stops as you momentarily share this creature’s world.
The thrill of witnessing whale sharks, the gentle giants of our oceans, has captivated travellers the world over, from Africa and Australia to Central America and Southeast Asia.
But if not done responsibly, tourism could threaten this beautiful, docile, yet globally Endangered species – through impacts such as pollution, boat strikes, habitat damage and changes to whale sharks’ natural behaviour.
Here at Terra Incognita we believe that ecotourism can be a powerful force for good and that whale shark tourism should benefit whale sharks, their visitors, and the communities who share their waters for generations to come. That’s why we’ve launched a search to find and promote the world’s top responsible whale shark tours.
Our Top Responsible Whale Shark Tours list 2019 will be the first comprehensive list to spotlight responsible whale shark tour operators around the world, recognising ethical practices and helping tourists make informed choices.
The list will be generated by a global community of travellers, bloggers, conservationists, tour guides and ecotourism operators. It will include a transparent vetting process for all tours focussed on responsible whale shark tourism practices, as well as how the tours contribute to conservation, local communities and education.
And we need your help! Do you know an amazing Whale Shark Tour that deserves promotion? Or are you a responsible operator with a great tour to share?
A future for the gentle giants of the ocean
Named for the characteristics they share with some whales – their size and habit of filter-feeding – whale sharks are the largest fish species on Earth today. The largest individual recorded measured 18.8 metres (about twice as long as a London bus), yet with a diet of plankton and small fishes they pose no threat to humans.
For these reasons and more – including whale sharks’ habit of gathering in the hundreds at certain times of the year in known locations in Mexico, Madagascar, India, Australia, the Philippines and many other countries – whale shark tourism throughout the tropics has grown rapidly.
But while whale sharks have gained significant protection from over-exploitation, today they are considered globally Endangered due to the impacts of fisheries, bycatch and vessel strikes. Hundreds are killed illegally every year for their meat, skin, fins and oil. Whale sharks’ long lifespan and slow maturation mean it’s particularly hard for the species to recover when their numbers decline.
If managed irresponsibly, whale shark tourism could put additional unsustainable pressure on the species and its habitat.
But as National Geographic Author Kennedy Warne puts it, “Some would argue that whale sharks – like whales, pandas, polar bears, tigers and elephants – are ambassadors for the natural world: charismatic creatures that move us to care for Earth and its multitudinous life.”
Done right, whale shark tourism could educate and inspire people to care and channel resources to protect whale sharks, their habitats and benefit the communities they share waters with.
Would you like to help whale sharks and be a part of a movement that creates positive change for people and planet through travel? Help us by recommending a whale shark tour, by sharing this story with your network, and by staying tuned for the Top Responsible Whale Shark Tour list 2019.