Snorkeling can be a magical experience, allowing you to get up close and personal with aquatic animals normally only viewable through a thick pane of glass. There’s no end to the awe-inspiring sights under the sea, and if you’re really lucky, you might even see a rare marine creature, such as a manta ray or a pygmy seahorse. Nothing, however, compares to an encounter with a whale shark, the sea creature topping every diver’s bucket list.
The world’s largest fish, whale sharks are a truly breathtaking sight to behold. Stretching upwards of 40 feet in length, the gentle giants are ocean royalty. Whale sharks live over 100 years on average, and in that time, spend their days floating gracefully through the warm waters of the world’s tropical oceans, feeding on plankton and other minute fish.
Like any animal, however, the slow-moving mammoth of the sea should be treated with the utmost respect. The first rule of outdoor exploration is to treat any flora and fauna you encounter with the reverence they deserve. This means allowing them plenty of personal space. Even if that makes your pictures a little less impressive and your stories a little less thrilling.
Now, it’s okay to make a mistake. If you’re new to outdoor exploration, you might not know any better. But if you’re a tour guide responsible for showing other snorkelers right from wrong, you should absolutely know and practice the most basic rule of wildlife encounters.
Because of this, a recent viral video depicting a snorkeler riding a whale shark off an island in Semporna, Malaysia, sparked an immense wave of backlash. As he is believed to be a tour operator, the criticism was even harsher.
Divers Association Responds to Viral Whale Shark Encounter
When word of the disrespectful whale shark encounter reached the local Professional Divers Association (SPDA), president Suzimin Idris was outraged. In a subsequent statement, he urged dive centers to properly vet each hire before sending them out into the water.
“SPDA has issued reminders for each dive center to only hire qualified tourist guides,” he said, via The Star. Idris added that dive centers should impress the importance of respecting wildlife upon every member of their staff to prevent incidents like this in the future. “Once again, the SPDA urges tourism players in Semporna to give the proper training and awareness to their staff.”
An investigation is ongoing to identify the delinquent diver. Under the Parks Enactment 1984, it’s illegal to touch or possess any of the marine species in the area. The only exception is granted to those conducting research. Those who violate these laws can face a major fine or even jail time.
While on the topic of wildlife conservation, Suzimin Idris reminded all boaters not to cast their anchors on coral reefs. “This is another way for us to respect mother earth,” he said. “Many of the coral reefs have been destroyed by anchors.”