Whale of a time for marine tourists

En­thu­si­asm grows for new con­cept but reg­u­la­tion is needed, say cam­paign­ers

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Gulf of Thai­land

Pierc­ing the wa­ter’s sur­face with its al­mond-shaped mouth, a gi­ant Bryde’s whale opens wide for one, two, three sec­onds, gulp­ing in an­chovies as a boat­load of awed tourist look on in the Gulf of Thai­land.

It’s a rare glimpse of marine life in its nat­u­ral habi­tat, in a king­dom over­run with mass tourist at­trac­tions such as aquar­i­ums and dol­phin shows.

Once a dream for scuba divers, many of Thai­land’s co­ral reefs have been dulled by pol­lu­tion, over-fish­ing and in­creased boat traf­fic, as well as over-en­thu­si­as­tic swim­mers.

But go­ing out to spot Bryde’s whales is a rel­a­tively new con­cept.

The 15-me­ter-long mam­mals flock to the north­ern Gulf waters to feed on an abun­dance of an­chovies dur­ing the Septem­ber to De­cem­ber rainy sea­son.

Many tourists come out to catch a glimpse of their unique feed­ing habits -ob­serv­ing the way they keep their mouths agape for sec­onds at a time.

“The way they eat is the great­est biome­chan­i­cal event” in the world, said Ji­rayu Ekkul, who takes groups out on his con­verted fish­ing boat to spot the whales just a few hours from the bustling cap­i­tal Bangkok.

The de­voted diver and wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher’s com­pany Wild En­counter Thai- land is among only a hand­ful of­fer­ing whale watch­ing ex­cur­sions in the Gulf of Thai­land.

Head­ing out on the waters in search of Bryde’s whales is a ri­tual he rel­ishes, and one he hopes won’t be lost if whale­watch­ing goes the way of so many other mass tourism at­trac­tions in Thai­land.

“Com­mer­cial whale-watch­ing is new in Thai­land, there are no reg­u­la­tions yet,” he tells AFP on his boat, which can carry about 40 peo­ple.

There are con­cerns about the im­pact it has. In the Gulf of Thai­land, six whales were found dead this year, which is a sharp spike from the av­er­age one death per an­num. Surasak blames this in­crease on the toxic waters, though lo­cal me­dia also re­ported il­le­gal fish­ing trawlers in the area.

The coun­try, whose econ­omy re­mains hugely re­liant on tourists to keep afloat, has come un­der fire for let­ting visi­tors spoil its nat­u­ral at­trac­tions.

Pre­cious co­ral are rou­tinely dam­aged by throngs of scubadiv­ing tourists, who scrape reefs with their fins or hands in their hunt to spot trop­i­cal fish.

“The govern­ment is strug­gling to en­force best prac­tice in terms of tourism,” said Bri­tish marine bi­ol­o­gist James Har­vey.

He would like to see Thai­land em­brace green tourism, an in­creas­ingly at­trac­tive in­dus­try among eco-minded trav­ellers.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the United Na­tions, he founded Green Fins, a pro­gram that pro­motes sus­tain­able div­ing and snorkelling in Asia to pro­tect co­ral reefs, and would like to see a more ecofriendly ethos ap­plied in Thai­land.

“It makes eco­nomic sense to be green now,” he said.

peo­ple signed an on­line pe­ti­tion ask­ing the UN to re­con­sider us­ing the char­ac­ter

“Although the orig­i­nal cre­ators may have in­tended Won­der Woman to rep­re­sent a strong and in­de­pen­dent ‘war­rior’ woman with a fem­i­nist mes­sage, the re­al­ity is that the char­ac­ter’s cur­rent it­er­a­tion is that of a large-breasted white woman of im­pos­si­ble pro­por­tions,” the pe­ti­tion read.

Won­der Woman, a DC Comics hero­ine, first ap­peared in 1941, fight­ing vil­lains, res­cu­ing vic­tims and un­earthing evil plots.

The UN did not pro­vide fur­ther de­tails as to why the Won­der Woman cam­paign was end­ing this week but spokesman Jef­frey Brez said cam­paigns us­ing fic­tional char­ac­ters of­ten lasted no longer than a few months.

He said An­gry Birds, a col­lec­tion of an­i­mated char­ac­ters that orig­i­nated in an on­line video game, were used as cli­mate en­voys in March for a sin­gle day.

DC En­ter­tain­ment, which pub­lishes DC Comics, said it was pleased with the ex­po­sure Won­der Woman brought to the UN’s global goals to achieve gen­der equal­ity and em­power women and girls by 2030.

“Won­der Woman stands for peace, jus­tice and equal­ity, and for 75 years she has been a mo­ti­vat­ing force for many and will con­tinue to be long after the con­clu­sion of her UN Hon­orary Am­bas­sador­ship,” said Court­ney Sim­mons, from DC En­ter­tain­ment,

Sim­mons said the re­lease next year of a spe­cial-edi­tion Won­der Woman comic book on the em­pow­er­ment of women and girls, an­nounced in Oc­to­ber, is still planned.

LIL­LIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A fe­male Bryde's whale and her calf feed on an­chovies in the Gulf of Thai­land, off the coast of Sa­mut Sakhon prov­ince. Whale­watch­ing tours are win­ning fans in a coun­try over­run with mass tourist at­trac­tions such as aquar­i­ums and dol­phin shows.

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