From Slaughter to Tourism: A Whale Shark Window for Your Living Room
Twenty-five years of Shark Week on Discovery Channel! Who knew? Year twenty-six started in August with a week of shark specials including “Sharknado” actress Tara Reid explaining what she learned about whale sharks from Google.
I watched Shark Week for the first time last evening via Amazon Prime (so it will take me awhile to catch up). A first-year episode on whale sharks noted the slaughter of a thousand whale sharks off the coast of India, highlighted whale shark tourism in Baja California, and profiled a then-new aquarium in Japan with a whale shark tank attracting a million tourists.
That was then, and now whale sharks are featured in aquariums in Dubai and Atlanta. At the Atlanta aquarium you can apparently swim with the whale sharks.
The shift from slaughter to tourism is good news for whale sharks, people who like whale sharks, and people who live and work near whale sharks. Lots of people looking for adventure can find it swimming with massive whale sharks, the largest fish in the sea. Those not able to fly to Baja California or other exotic locations for whale shark adventures can visit aquariums with whale sharks. Just as once-rare elephants became popular attractions at European and American zoos, whale shark aquariums may expand to entertain visitors and raise awareness of the world’s whale sharks.
If a Los Angeles aquarium had featured whale sharks, perhaps Hollywood actresses would know more about them (and save themselves from commenting on live-television that that thought whale sharks were a cross between whales and sharks).
Whale sharks at aquariums have owners to feed and protect them. Out in the oceans, whale sharks lack owners until harpooned. That is, short of getting an okay to transport a whale shark to an aquarium, no one can claim ownership of a whale shark (or a whale). Governments sometimes take responsibility for protecting endangered whale sharks (much like governments taking responsibility for educating children).
Here are notes from an Aquarium of the Pacific page on whale sharks:
By far, the most serious threat to this species is from humans. The meat of the whale shark is considered a delicacy in Taiwan. It is marketed fresh, salted, and smoked and sells for very high prices. That fact plus the value of the fins, hide, liver oil and the cartilaginous skeleton all add up to a very high value per animal taken. There are a number of countries that permit the commercial taking of whale sharks and some fisheries target the species. They are occasionally taken as bycatch. Protected in a number of countries, they are frequently fished illegally because of poor or non-existent enforcement of existing regulations.
Whale sharks are exhibited in several aquariums worldwide. Swimming and diving with whale sharks in locations where there appearance is predictable has resulted in an ecotourism business in several parts of the world such as Western Australia, Bahia de los Angeles, Mexico, Belize, and the Philippines. (Source)
This last development is key: Swimming and diving with whale sharks in locations where there appearance is predictable has resulted in an ecotourism business in several parts of the world…
Now, instead of whale sharks having commercial value only when harpooned, tourism encourages local people and governments to protect them. Baja Airventures is one firm advertising quick flights to Baja to swim with whale sharks.
How else could communities living near coastal whale shark populations earn income and provide shark services? New technologies provide new opportunities. The video cameras that recorded whale sharks for Shark Week twenty-five years ago cost tens of thousands of dollars. Now better HD underwater cameras are much less expensive. A Sony HD “Action Cam” (HDR-AS15/B) is $199 and waterproof to 197 feet underwater (almost a dollar a foot! Though the underwater housing may be extra).
Now everyday people can swim with the whale sharks and record the experience in HD. Do tourists disturb whale sharks? It’s not clear. Tourists do disturb whale shark researchers–at least the one on the Shark Week episode I watched. Maybe if people picked off the occasional parasite, as pilot and remora fish do, the relationship could be more symbiotic. But actually, tourists swimming with whale sharks are already protecting them from folks with harpoons.
People can stay on their couch at home and watch whale sharks through video streaming from distant HD cameras. Watching prepackaged Shark Week episodes is not enough for some, but flying to Baja or other distant location is too much. Providing the inexpensive in-between experience is the goal for future whale shark entrepreneurs and enterprises. Maybe people would pay to join a Baja whale shark in Google Hangouts (the Sony Action Cam has wifi…). Developing the right immersive experience is a challenge, but there are millions around the world likely to prefer active engagement via the Internet to passively watching old whale shark shows via cable. Paying to develop the enterprise involves mixing labor with nature, but entrepreneurs lack the Lockean institutions to gain ownership of whale sharks or their habitat (short of establishing ownership via harpoon).
New 4K UltraHD Windows to Underwater Worlds
The future may be just around the corning, but is always hard to see. In the television market however, the future always has a lot more pixels. When the price fell enough for flat-screen high-def televisions to find their way to my living room, newer higher-definition televisions were out for early adopters. (It is so nice of rich people to pay the ultra high prices for each new technology. Their high-dollar purchases pay the research and development costs that allow lower-cost HD TVs and other gadgets for the rest of us.)
New 4K “Ultra HD” won’t change the world, but the increase in pixels is significant, with resolution expanding from 1920 x 1080 to 3840 x 2160. That’s a boatload more pixels and opens much bigger windows on terrestrial and marine worlds. In the coming years millions more living rooms will show 4K UltraHD sports contests and action movies and also much more realistic and detailed nature shows.
Hollywood is gearing up for higher-definition action movies with higher-def car
chases and explosions. But one of the reasons action-movie car chases and explosions are so over the top already is to compensate for the limited space across the 40-60 inch televisions.
Ultra HD opens windows for more evocative and immersive natural action sequences. Ultra HD scenes of whale sharks leisurely feeding along the Baja Peninsula and nearby islands can open a window for stunningly realistic home viewing. A giant whale shark or sea turtle aquarium at home is costly (and often frowned upon by landlords and insurance companies). A very big 4K UltraHD television can look a lot like an big home aquarium and is much easier to clean.
Worried that home video, no matter what the definition, is not real enough? How about a live 4K UltraHD feed from Baja of whale sharks there? For more realism, some rich folks and hotels may set up UltraHD screens along the side of swimming pools. It’s less expensive than setting up an aquarium alongside hotel pools.
|Aquarium pool at Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas|