Ch'ooj Ajauil AC, a non-profit organization created in 2010 involving tour operator and external research collaborations, is devoted to monitoring and preserving marine pelagic life in the Mexican Caribbean. The organization explored the question, how many whale sharks are been damaged by tourism boats? Six years of methodic registration of scars, injuries and abrasion on whale sharks, using video and photographs, conducted by 3 snorkelers alternating with up to 5 surface observers on board a research boat, along 150 transects, observing 1336 whale sharks, in waters off north east Isla Mujeres, México, where the largest aggregation has been reported. Whale shark tourism began over 15 years ago in north Quintana Roo, México on the north east coast of the Yucatan peninsula. Tour operators have been stigmatized as the ones responsible for whale shark injuries, regardless of the multiple other boats transiting the area, including commercial fishers, private yachts and huge vessels. Scars on whale sharks come from many sources including other shark bites and smack and graze, but the most conspicuous ones are propeller cuts and mutilations, mostly on the dorsal fins and body. It is hard to determine geographically where an injury happened, or when. Previous reports on the same population at a different zone, estimated between 13 – 33% of total sharks as injured. There have been statements from the public observers suggesting that up to 50% of the sharks show some kind of scars. This shark meta-population moves into other areas across a large region, including the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and open Atlantic waters. Actual estimations indicate that 29.64% of the whale sharks show some kind of abrasion, including healed and old scars; while less than 5% presented fresh injuries per year. No avoidance behavior toward boats was observed from the scarred sharks or from the freshly injured, but the latter were found to be more cautious around snorkelers. Whale sharks with fresh propeller cuts did not modify their site fidelity. Boating enforcement should be improved in order to keep damage to the species at lowest rate possible. A note on healing and recovery is given to document the rapid process of this on some animals.


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