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Abstract

Tofo, Mozambique has been reported as having a year-round whale shark population (Pierce et. al., 2010). An important facet of Tofo's tourism industry, which forms a large part of the area's income, has grown up around this whale shark population. Sustainable tourist interaction was investigated and a Code of Conduct voluntarily imposed. However a decline in whale shark sightings in Tofo has brought the sustainability of this population and ecotourism approach into question. Commercial whale shark snorkelling trips have been routinely accompanied/participated in from 2008 to present. Photo identification records have been collected to establish residency, seasonality and other sighting trends. Whale shark encounters, tourist and whale shark behaviour and environmental information are routinely recorded. Surveys of tourists were conducted to elucidate motivation, code of conduct compliance, local economical benefit and satisfaction amongst other factors. Over the 8 year study period a decline in whale sharks seen on snorkelling trips in Tofo was observed. These data demonstrate a drop from 1.35 whale shark encounters per snorkelling trip, and a 65% chance of an encounter on any given trip (analysed over a 12 mth period in 2011/12) to just 0.54 whale shark encounters per snorkel trip, and just a 35% chance of an encounter on any given trip (over a 12 month period in 2015/16). For the tourism industry this literally translates as replacement of the phrase ‘you are likely to see a whale shark’ with ‘you are not likely to see a whale shark’ on any given snorkelling trip. Both numbers of new sharks seen and re-sightings have fallen. Photo ID collaboration with the international whale shark database shows no evidence that large numbers of Mozambique sharks have migrated to other aggregation sites, suggesting the ecotourism location has not simply shifted. Whale shark specific tourism has become very important to the economy of Tofo and Mozambique as a whole. Interviews of tourists currently in process, will address the satisfaction of those who participate in snorkel trips and the durability of this industry in light of the falling population. The whale shark encounter rate in Tofo has significantly declined. However, this need not result in the abortion of this successful ecotourism approach, which has made whale shark conservation financially important in Mozambique. Whale sharks may still be used as an important attractant but tourist satisfaction should/can be maintained, despite reduction in sightings, through diversification of snorkelling goals. These findings develop new approaches to facilitate ongoing whale shark-friendly ecotourism in all locations where whale shark sightings are in decline. This study depicts a way forward which maintains the financial value of whale sharks, so continuing to encourage their conservation and study.

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/content/papers/10.5339/qproc.2016.iwsc4.49
2016-05-15
2019-09-20
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