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Whale Shark Controversy

See also - Whale Shark in Utila,   Facts & FiguresResearch, Encounters

Whale Shark  - Click to enlarge
Whale Shark with remoras in the waters of Utila
Courtesy of Utila East Wind

Encounters with Whale Sharks in Utila has not been without occasional controversy. The May 2005 Edition of the Utila East Wind, (Utila's only local newspaper), published a story on pages 8 & 9 entitled "Boiling Point" which reported on the growing debate on the Island of Utila about the boats containing divers and snorkelers over-crowding the Whale Sharks as they come to the surface.

Whale Sharks are usually spotted by boat captains experienced in looking for "the boil". While whale sharks themselves feed on wide variety of planktonic (microscopic) and nektonic (larger free-swimming) prey, such as small crustaceans, schooling fishes, and occasionally on bonito (tuna) and squids, there always seems to be a teeming mass of fish surrounding the whale shark, "the boil", at the surface, presumably joining in on the smorgasbord of feeding that seems to accompany the whale shark.

Whale Shark Research - Click to enlarge
Whale Shark with scarring to head
Courtesy of Utila East Wind

Some are concerned that boats over-crowding the whale shark at the surface will disrupt its feeding patterns, others are concerned that the whale sharks may be injured by boats colliding with them. (The photo opposite illustrates a whale shark with scarring to it's head, possibly as a result of a collision with a propeller).

Whale Shark - click to enlargeIt is not necessarily the boat captains that are at fault, this video taken in May 2005 by Dan Cain of Funky Fat Fish Productions Utila shows a whale shark swimming up to the rear of a stationary boat and head-butting the propeller.

View the video
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Hal Whitefield - click to enlarge20-Apr-2005   Hal Whitefield Speaks Out

Interviewer & Cameraman - Dolfito Miralda

Local fisherman, such as Hal Whitefield, also complain about the tourist and dive boats crowding around the Whale Sharks and making it too difficult for local Utila fisherman to catch bonito bait fish. He also complains about the Dive Shops taking water taxi and Utila Cays trips away from local fisherman. Watch what he has to say.High (14.4MB) Med (6.MB) Low (1.MB) to view the video. (5 min 30 sec)

 

The "Boil" that surrounds the whale shark and the associated feeding frenzy of other fish can occasionally result in freak accidents. The May 2005 Edition (page 2) of the Utila East Wind carried a report of a woman who was unfortunately injured while entering the "boiling water" around a whale shark. She sustained a broken tibia and a 10cm long laceration to her leg, presumably as the freak accidental result of entering the water just as another fish was lunging for prey within the "boil".

Dr John - click to enlarge12-Apr-2005   Woman injured last week while diving with Whale Sharks
Interviewer & Cameraman - Dolfito Miralda

Last week a woman sustained a broken leg and a 10cm gash to her leg while diving with Whale Sharks, hear what Dr John has to say about the incident.

Select your Internet connection speed  High (4.37MB) Med (2.26MB) Low (0.5MB) to view the video. (1 min 42 sec)

Yet despite the controversy, thousands of people have swum safely and enjoyed the unique experience of diving with whale sharks in Utila. Read our visitors review pages to see what some of them have to say about the unique and exciting experience of visiting Utila, truly The Whale Shark Capital of the Caribbean.

See also - Whale Shark in Utila, Facts & Figures, Research, Encounters