How does wildlife tourism affect the animals it targets? – ScienceDaily


A new study in Conservation physiology, published by Oxford University Press, reveals that white shark activity increases dramatically when animals interact with cage dive operators.

Over the past decades, animal tourism has grown rapidly and is one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry. Ecotourism opportunities for cage diving with white sharks, large marine predators, are available in Australia, South Africa, United States of America, Mexico and New Zealand, with up to seven companies operating simultaneously on the same site.

Previous studies have shown that wildlife tourism can change the behavior of animal species by altering their habitats or eating habits. It is not known exactly how these changes affect the health of individual animals or animal populations.

The study shows that white sharks are more active and likely use more energy when interacting with tour operators compared to other situations (for example, when operators are away), raising questions about the changes. behavior that this tourism can cause.

Researchers followed ten white sharks in South Australia’s Neptune Islands with devices for nine days, finding that increased movement when sharks interact with cage dive operators results in an overall dynamic acceleration of the body, an indicator of activity, 61% higher than at other times. when sharks are present in the area.

Since body acceleration is considered an indicator of metabolic rate, interaction with cage divers is likely to use significantly more energy than standard white shark behaviors.

“This suggests that the cage diving industry has the potential to affect the energy budget of white sharks,” said Charlie Huveneers, associate professor at Flinders University and principal investigator of the study. “However, the mere presence of cage diving operators near the sharks was not sufficient to cause such behavioral changes. These only occurred when the white sharks were close to the cage diving vessels. “

“Spending time interacting with cage dive operators could distract sharks from normal behaviors such as foraging on energy-rich natural prey like pinnipeds,” Huveneers added.

Commercial cage diving with white sharks uses approved and regulated attractants to attract sharks near cages and provide good viewing opportunities for divers. However, unlike many other shark related tourism activities, operators are not permitted to feed white sharks. Interaction with tourist cage divers is therefore not rewarded with more food. This suggests that the increased energy expenditure resulting from interaction with cage dive operators may not be offset by the consumption of bait or natural prey.

This study indicates that wildlife tourism can alter the activity levels of white sharks and calls for an understanding of the frequency of shark-tourism interactions to appreciate the impact of ecotourism on the physical form of this species.

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Material provided by Oxford University Press United States. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.

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