Thursday, December 03, 2015

Oslob - killing the Golden Goose?

Forbidden interaction - pulled directly from the website of an operator no less! This is just fucking stupid!

Oh FFS - have you seen this paper?
And I cite.
Compliance to the required minimum distance from the shark was investigated during the 1,082 complete focal follows. During 907 focal follows (84%) at least one snorkeler or boat-holder was observed being less than 2 m away from the whale shark, inconsistent with the code of conduct (Table 2). On average there were 1.9 snorkelers or boat-holders (S.D. = 2.6) and 0.2 scuba divers (S.D. = 0.9) within 2 m of the whale shark recorded every 5 min. The maximum number of snorkelers and boat-holders around a single shark was observed on 7 September 2013 when 19 people were recorded within 2 m of a whale shark and, respectively, on 10 December 2012 when 10 scuba divers were closer than 2 m from the shark.

Data on the number of guests within 10 m of sharks was missing from 62 focal follows in 2012, the remaining 1,020 focal follows showed that in 56.1% of the surveys the maximum number of snorkelers allowed per shark (i.e., 6) was exceeded. The maximum number of snorkelers and boat-holders within 10 m of a shark was 33. Records of the number of scuba divers within 10 m of a shark only started in July 2013. During these 406 focal follows, the maximum of 4 scuba divers was exceeded on 79 occasions (19.5%). Twenty-one scuba divers within 10 m of a shark was the highest number of divers recorded per shark.

From May 2012 to January 2013, researchers systematically counted the amount of active touches from guests and feeders on sharks. A total of 4,832 active touches were recorded over 545 focal follows. Feeders pushing away sharks with their feet or petting the sharks with their hands accounted for the majority of these active contacts (97.6%); while guests were observed touching sharks 117 times. During the 2013 and 2014 survey seasons, feeder touches were no longer systematically counted, because of the lack of reaction observed in the whale sharks. On 114 occasions guests were recorded to actively touch whale sharks during this same period...

The assessment of the compliance to the code of conduct revealed very low adherence to the regulations in place in Oslob.
Most worrying was the decreasing trend of compliance from 21.4% in 2012 to only 3.4% compliance in 2014 in terms of minimal distance to the whale shark. Our numbers are conservative because only people within 2 m of the shark were included in the count, whereas the code of conduct regulating the whale shark watching activities in Oslob dictates a minimum distance of 5 m from the side and tail of the sharks, which means that the real compliance might have been even lower. Free swimming, snorkelling guests tended to have lower compliance than guests holding on to the boat while watching the shark underwater. Snorkelers can control the distance to the shark by either actively approaching the animal or swimming away to keep the required distance; nevertheless 85% of snorkelers were too close to the shark in 2014.
Seriously, WTF?
I've been a staunch supporter of Oslob's highly controversial Whale Shark feeding encounters, but this only provided that there are good interaction protocols, and that the rules are being followed - and this is just highly disappointing, and pretty darn stupid to boot.
One may question the usefulness of certain prescriptions - but if so, they can be changed. Simply ignoring them is reinforcing the arguments of the many detractors and will undoubtedly precipitate some unwelcome reactions by the Authorities.
C'mon people!

And the other effects?
Yup, there's conditioning by positive reinforcement, leading to a higher tolerance towards people by the WS, more vertical feeding etc etc. This deviates from the behavior of non-fed, non-conditioned "wild" WS - but that's all one can say at the moment, meaning that the concerns by the researchers about possible associated risks to the WS' well-being are so far undocumented and thus merely speculative.
So far, not to worry.

But the non-compliance sucks big time.
I say, follow the bloody rules or you may spoil it for everybody.
This is not rocket science - so just fucking do it!

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