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Crackdown aimed at whale shark tour boats

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Cancun, Q. Roo — Inspecting 53 boats that lead tourists to whale sharks, federal authorities suspended five of them.

With the season for allowable whale shark tours in its final two weeks, Profepa took a closer look at the industry that makes a living from the marine creatures.

Whale shark season runs May 15 to mid-September as more than 400 of the world’s largest fish swim between Isla Contoy and Isla Mujeres. The region boasts the world’s highest concentration of whale sharks, a slow-moving variety of shark —it’s not a whale — that grows to as much as 40 feet long and 30,000 pounds.

As filter feeders, whale sharks do not bite. Their 3,000 teeth are tiny and not used for biting down on food, which makes tourists feel safe around them.

Especially off the coast of Mexico, whale shark adventure tourism has exploded. With that economic boost to the region, some illegal operators have apparently popped up, ignoring the rules limiting and regulating the industry.

For two days, federal officers joined the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (Conanp) to inspect boats in federal waters off Isla Contoy.

On the first day, Profepa says they suspended a boat, Los Hermanos JMRS, after accusing the operator of letting its Conap license lapse.

Another four boats were suspended for failing to carry the necessary authorization on board.

They say that two of the four boats were private and two were tourist vessels.

Before they concluded their rounds, a fishing vessel was spotted in known whale shark waters. That boat was also removed from the area.

Federal environmental officials have scrutinized the whale-shark industry in general, questioning the wisdom at letting tourists swim with them.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature moved the whale shark from “vulnerable” status to “endangered” in 2016 after concluding that its population had fallen by about 50 percent in the past 75 years.

“We should really just leave them alone,” says one former scuba-diving instructor in the Maldives, another region that attracts the specias. “They’re so rare.”

Source: La Verdad

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