Kenya’s Whale Sharks – Born Free & Staying Free

Posted on: September 23rd, 2013 by Hannah Darrin

Source: Born Free Foundation

Whalesharks-23Plans to create an artificial marine enclosure off the southern coast of Kenya and stock it with wild-caught specimens of the world’s largest fish – the whale shark – as a tourism attraction have been comprehensively rejected by the government of Kenya.

The judgement delivered by the National Environmental Management Authority of Kenya cited in their determination that the proposed project:

  • Denied whale sharks their right to exist in their natural habitat
  • Did not adequately engage with local communities
  • Did not recognise that whale shark tourism can be promoted in the wild without capturing these animals
  • Would have been in contravention of Kenya’s 1962 Animal Cruelty Act

The Born Free Foundation and others presented their concerns at a Public Hearing held in Kenya in February 2013 and called for the proposal by Volker Bassen of Seaquarium Ltd to be rejected. Their sentiments were echoed by many  ‘Activators’ (the Born Free Foundation’s letter-writing team, Activate) who wrote from all over the world to key Kenyan decision-makers expressing their dismay.

Aaron Nicholas, the Foundation’s Conservation Manager stated:  “Born Free, working with regional marine scientists, local marine charities and other campaigners, mounted a high profile lobby against the proposed ‘Seaquarium’ scheme, particularly on the grounds that it is unethical to incarcerate these magnificent creatures and that the venture undermined Kenya’s rich legacy of conserving and promoting wildlife conservation and tourism ‘in the wild.”

The Foundation further asserted that whale sharks are an internationally-important migratory species (recognised by the UN Convention on Migratory Species – CMS) and play a key role in the marine ecosystem;  that capture from the wild plays no role in enhancing the conservation of the species; and that greater protection of free-living whale sharks was the best way of ensuring their long-term future.

Congratulating NEMA on this decision and applauding the input of the many groups, experts and individuals that had opposed the captive whale shark project,  Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation, said: “We are determined to support actions that protect whale sharks throughout their fragile marine ecosystem while ensuring that benefits are shared with local communities. To that end, we plan to fund the training of boat skippers and crew off Mafia Island, Tanzania, later this year, to ensure that they understand and adhere to regulations concerning whale shark tourist viewing. We hope that we can extend this important initiative to Kenyan waters as part of a regional approach to whale shark conservation.”