Are Tourists Harming Whale Sharks Along Mexico's Caribbean Coast?
Pam LeBlanc - American-Statesman
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September 10, 2015

Join American-Statesman writer Pam LeBlanc as she swims alongside 40-foot plankton-eating whale sharks off the Yucatan Peninsula near Isla Mujeres. (austin360video)

Every summer, hundreds of whale sharks gather off the Yucatan Coast, within an easy boat ride of the Mexican tourist hubs of Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox.

The sharks, toothless plankton eaters that stretch up to 40 feet in length, congregate there to feed on the eggs of a fish called the little tunny, a type of tuna. The sharks skim the surface of the ocean, their tire-sized mouths agape, slurping up food.

In recent years, though, the phenomenon has attracted crowds of humans, too, who flock to the site 20 miles offshore to snorkel alongside the graceful, slow-moving creatures.

The practice pumps tourism dollars into Mexico’s economy and gives people a chance to see the largest fish in the ocean in its natural environment. But experts say it might also be threatening the welfare of the whale sharks, which are considered a “vulnerable” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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