Estimating the energetic cost of whale shark tourism

Christine Barry, Christine Legaspi, Thomas M. Clarke, Gonzalo Araujo, Corey J.A. Bradshaw, Adrian C. Gleiss, Lauren Meyer, Charlie Huveneers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Wildlife tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the tourism industry, where feeding animals is often applied to increase the probability of up-close encounters. However, directly feeding wildlife can cause behavioural, ecological, and physiological changes in the target species. In Oslob, Philippines, whale shark (Rhincodon typus) tourism involves feeding sharks a total of 150–400 kg sergestid shrimp daily throughout the interaction period from 06:00 to 10:00 from small outrigger boats while tourists observe whale sharks. We deployed tri-axial acceleration loggers on 16 whale sharks and recorded 270 h of acceleration, depth, and water temperature data (0.2–69.7 h). Comparing activity across tourism and non-tourism periods, whale sharks had a two-fold increase in vectorial dynamic body acceleration, and altered tailbeat frequency and amplitude, during tourism operations. Using a bioenergetics model, we show that whale shark metabolic rates increased by 56.7–71.6 % while in the tourism area. A resampling approach found providing ∼220 kg of sergestid shrimp daily would ensure ≥ 0.90 probability of meeting the increased energetic requirements. A global sensitivity analysis revealed that uncertainty in the assumed exponent of the standard metabolic rate was the only input that varied model predictions substantially. Due to unknown consequences of feeding whale sharks, we recommend managers aim to reduce the energy expenditure of whale sharks through operation changes instead of focussing on the quantity of food provided. Our research provides a novel method to contextualise the impacts of tourism beyond behavioural changes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110164
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Conservation
Early online date27 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


  • Accelerometer
  • Elasmobranch
  • Energy expenditure
  • Oslob
  • Philippines
  • Provisioning


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