A small population of juvenile whale sharks occurs off the west coast of Mafia Island, some 10-15km offshore from the central Tanzanian coast. The sharks are most commonly observed while feeding at the surface between the months of October and April. The sharks are vulnerable to local fishing activities and there are concerns about the impact of Mafia’s growing whale shark tourism industry.
Sea Sense is working closely with fishers in Mafia who use ring nets and interact with whale sharks during their daily fishing activities. Some fishers are known to use whale sharks to help locate schools of fish. This practice has led to a number of whale sharks becoming entangled in nets and being hit by boat propellers. Sea Sense conducts regular education workshops for fishers to raise awareness of whale shark conservation and to promote fishing practices that do not cause harm or distress to whale sharks.
Sea Sense has provided training workshops for boat captains and crew employed in the whale shark tourism industry in Mafia. The workshops focus on improving knowledge and understanding of whale shark biology and behaviour so that there is increased awareness of boat handling and visitor management techniques that reduce the risk of negative encounters with whale sharks.
Sea Sense has also collaborated with the Marine Megafauna Foundation to produce a 'Whale Shark Briefing Pack' for visitors taking part in whale shark excursions. The Pack includes a ‘Code of Conduct’ for swimming with whale sharks and has been translated into German, Italian and French. The Briefing Pack is available at hotels and lodges in Mafia and is also stored on whale shark tourism boats.
Sea Sense has conducted a series of stakeholder engagement activities that are generating information on the benefits of whale sharks to Mafia, both ecologically and economically. However, they also highlight multiple stakeholder interests, which underscores the urgent need for a whale shark management strategy that incorporates stronger management of the fisheries sector and promotes improved regulation of whale shark tourism. Sea Sense uses information gathered through stakeholder engagement to advocate for such a strategy.