Whale sharks have a big mouthCANCUN (MEXICO)- Swimming with whale sharks has become so popular worldwide that scientists, environmentalists and even ecotourism operators are calling for new limits on human contact.

The world’s biggest fish is a solitary creature but occasionally gathers in large groups, or aggregations, to feast on everything from plankton to fish eggs. As the aggregation sites have become known, tourists have flocked to them, with tour operators from Mexico to the Maldives selling opportunities to swim “with the world’s biggest shark.”

People are willing to pay money for this kind of eco-tourism, and now you see these unintended consequences. Like the Philippines, where some boat captains have begun hand-feeding the big sharks to keep them nearby for paying tourists.

That has horrified scientists, who fear it will interrupt the sharks’ migratory behavior. Some have signed a petition demanding the practice be banned, and Philippines fisheries officials recently began looking into the hand-feeding.

Or Kenya, where some tour operators have proposed corralling the big sharks in fenced-off lagoons and hauling in paying tourists to swim with the trapped fish. Or Mexico, where off the coast of heavily touristed coast of Yucatan whale sharks gather in one of the world largest aggregations . Millions of vacationers from Cancún one of the Caribbean’s top tourist sites. are within a 45-minute boat ride of the area of open ocean where, from May through September, the big sharks congregate by the hundreds near Isla Mujeres.

This gathering spot, or “afuera,” was little known until three years ago, when scientists and some tour operators discovered the site. Newspaper articles, television reports and YouTube videos broadcast the news. Tourists began arriving by the tens of thousands and a new eco-tourism industry was born.

Read more at source The Washington Post