A small population of juvenile whale sharks occurs off the west coast of Mafia Island, some 10-15km offshore from the central Tanzanian coast. The sharks are most commonly observed while feeding at the surface between the months of October and April. The sharks are vulnerable to local fishing activities and there are concerns about the impact of Mafia’s growing whale shark tourism industry.
Sea Sense is working closely with local fishers in Mafia who interact with whale sharks during their daily fishing activities. Some fishers are known to use whale sharks to help locate schools of fish. This practice has led to a number of whale sharks becoming entangled in nets and being hit by boat propellers. Sea Sense has organised a number of education workshops for fishers to raise awareness of whale shark conservation and promote fishing practices that do not cause harm or distress to whale sharks.
At the beginning of each whale shark season, Sea Sense holds workshops for boat captains and crew employed in the whale shark tourism industry in Mafia. The workshops focus on improving knowledge and understanding of whale shark biology, ecology and conservation.
Sea Sense has collaborated with the Marine Megafauna Foundation to produce a 'Whale Shark Briefing Pack' for visitors taking part in whale shark excursions. The Pack includes a ‘Code of Conduct’ for swimming with whale sharks and has been translated into German, Italian and French. The Briefing Pack is available at hotels and lodges in Mafia and is also stored on whale shark tourism boats.
In 2015 Sea Sense conducted an economic survey of 48 goods and service providers in Mafia Island and results showed that many service providers rely heavily on the tourism sector for their livelihoods and recognize the importance of whale sharks to Mafia Island. Sea Sense is using the results of this survey as a tool to lever greater support for the development of a whale shark management strategy for Mafia Island that incorporates stronger management of the fisheries sector and promotes improved regulation of whale shark tourism. Moving forwards in 2016, Sea Sense is working closely with key stakeholders to begin the process of drafting the strategy.