-The unique and intimate connection between the shark and fisherman is inescapable.
Each night whale sharks gorge themselves on the tiny shrimp that rise from the deep toward the surface, where the fishermen also catch the shrimp using hand nets under the warm glow of gas lanterns.
Given the competition for this resource, the two were bound to clash. Instead the fishermen choose to share some of their catch with the whale sharks, believing this would bring good luck.
The fishermen developed a small whale shark tourism business and began charging a small fee for customers to swim with the sharks; a business that has since flourished.
For this low-income community, these modest fees have become a critical part of their earnings. The fishermen feed the whale sharks handfuls of shrimp, while snorkelers and divers are treated to an unbelievable encounter.
The feeding of the whale sharks raises legitimate concerns about possible negative impacts on the wellbeing of these animals. In this case however, the whale sharks are feeding on the naturally occurring shrimp, with the hand feeding offering only a small additional supplement.
-A community that once participated in the slaughter of whale sharks for their fins has now befriended these gentle giants.
Tourism is providing the greatest financial incentive for this community to protect these whale sharks from another slaughter.
The greatest threat, however, is illegal poaching. Up until the late 1990s, this same community participated in the slaughter of whale sharks for their fins and all but wiped out the population.
Now a decade later, whale sharks have finally returned to the waters of this village. Tourism, with all its imperfections, has provided the greatest incentive for this local community to protect these vulnerable creatures from a repeat of what happened a decade ago.
The bond between these fishermen and the whale sharks, in stark contrast with the senseless slaughter by fishermen from the neighbouring village, drives home the point.
The human connection is central to conservation, without it our efforts will ultimately falter, but by harnessing it we can change the world.
-This is a guest blog by Shawn Heinrichs.
Call to Action:
- Take your next dive holiday in locations such as Oslob where local communities are engaged in, and benefit from marine conservation.
- Visit WildAid and PEW to learn more about how to conserve sharks.
- Donate to organisations such as WildAid and BlueSphere Foundation who work tireless to conserve sharks and other endangered species.
- Spread the word, engage your community, change the world!
- Shawn Heinrichs is an Emmy Award winning cinematographer, photographer and conservationist who has worked with Richard in locations around the world, capturing imagery and stories of Richard's work to conserve important marine life and ocean habitats.
- See more of his photography.
- Follow Shawn on Facebook.
June 8th is World Oceans Day. It is an opportunity to celebrate the world’s oceans but also raise awareness of the challenges our oceans face. In celebration of World Ocean’s Day read our oceans series:
- Saving the ocean wilderness
- Ocean conservation for entrepreneurs
- Fish 2.0: Connecting fishermen and investors
- Plunging into the depths of the Queen National Marine Park