The Department of Parks and Wildlife manages the whale shark tourism industry within the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area, Western Australia. Guided by the Wildlife Management Program no. 57, , the Department licences and monitors the activity of 15 commercial tour operators. A key strategy in the Management Program is to continue to research and monitor the impacts of whale shark interaction tourism on whale sharks in Ningaloo Marine Park, providing an on-going challenge. This presentation will discuss the utility of the various approaches taken by both the Department and researcher activity licensed by the Department. These include the use of electronic monitoring systems on board the commercial tour operators' vessels which document encounter duration, photo identification of whale sharks, aerial behavioural monitoring and archival, acoustic and satellite tagging. As a management agency, the Department has identified a number of questions as outlined in the Management Program that aim to determine the level of impact on whale sharks. Potential impacts on whale sharks can arise from a number of anthropogenic sources including tourist vessels, recreational vessels and research activity. Finding the appropriate methodology to answer these questions is the key. Encounter duration is useful for determining short-term intra-season impacts. Photo identification catalogues combined with satellite tagging have been useful for determining longer-term inter-season return rates. Acoustic tagging will reveal patterns of residency while archival tagging has the potential to allow detailed behavioural studies. Photo identification also allows the analysis of scarring and potential impact on survival of the whale sharks visiting Ningaloo Marine Park and where possible can attribute scars to anthropogenic sources. Aerial monitoring of whale shark behaviour allows us to study whale shark swimming behaviours and direction in the presence and absence of vessels and swimmers. Understanding and managing the impacts on whale sharks is a complex, challenging task. A single method cannot determine disturbance level on whale sharks. Determining which approach is appropriate to the given question and drawing upon the expertise of others to make informed management decisions is paramount and we will continue to take a multidisciplinary approach.


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