Whale of a time for marine tourists
Enthusiasm grows for new concept but regulation is needed, say campaigners
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.
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.