Known as “gentle giants,” whale sharks are the sweethearts of the ecotourism industry. They spend large parts of their day drifting beneath the surface, feeding on plankton and shrimp with their massive water-filtering gills, which makes the species easy to spot from boats. It also makes them particularly vulnerable to vessel strikes. Cuts, gashes and scrapes are an all-too-common feature on these enormous fish. “The amount of injuries is pretty shocking … and the severity,” Daire Carroll, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Warwick in the U.K. and co-author of a new paper on the subject, told Mongabay in an interview. The paper, published this month in Scientific Reports, assesses the injuries of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) at an aggregation at the South Ari Atoll Marine Protected Area (SAMPA) in the Maldives, known to be a “developmental habitat” due to the fact that most individuals there are immature males. SAMPA is also one of the few places in the world where tourists can swim and snorkel with these bus-sized creatures year round, which means that there are plenty of boats in this area. An injured whale shark. Image courtesy of Jessica Harvey-Carroll. Using survey data from the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP) as well as citizen science data, the researchers found that 61% of surveyed whale sharks had at least one major injury from a boat, while nearly all individuals had minor scrapes and grazes. Whale sharks are known to migrate thousands of miles across the ocean, although…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer

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