Swimming with Giants: One BIG Reason to Care about Marine Sanctuaries and Monuments

People often say we know more about the surface of the moon than we do the ocean, but with advances in science and technology we learn more every day. The ocean is host to shrimp that stun their prey with high speed bubbles, squid that can grow to the size of a school bus, and underwater lakes, rivers and waterfalls. In waters surrounding the US, eleven national sanctuaries and monuments that protect a diversity of spectacular habitats are currently at risk—the Trump Administration may remove these protections. These places provide habitats for an array of species like sea turtles, dolphins, and even whale sharks. Last week, I decided to journey south to see these enormous polka-dotted fish for myself.

Whale sharks are quite literally the biggest fish in the sea and they live in tropical ocean waters around the world. My visit to see them took me to Isla Mujeres, a tiny island in the Gulf of Mexico, but they’ve been known to travel all throughout the Gulf. They make incredible migrations through sanctuaries like the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary off the Texas and Louisiana coasts.

Upon getting in the water with these incredible fish my mind was racing between thoughts like, “Wow, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen” to “Wait, they can’t actually swallow me…right?” The answer to the latter is no. Even though they have mouths reaching five feet wide their esophagus is only about the width of a quarter, so unless you are a tasty looking platter of zooplankton, you should be safe.

Watch the video below by Spencer Ozer to see this magnificent creature in its natural habitat

If you choose to swim with whale sharks, make sure you choose a responsible outfitter than has the proper protections in place to keep whale sharks wild. Swimmers should be accompanied by a guide at all times, only a small number of people should be allowed in the water at once, and swimmers should keep at least 2-3 meters away from the sharks. Use of lotions and sunscreen should be prohibited. Most importantly, don’t patronize any business that feeds whale sharks.

When done responsibly, whale shark tourism can connect people to the wonders of the ocean and inspire people to speak up for protecting the marine habitats whale sharks and other wildlife need.

Photo by Rachel Graham, MarAlliance

In 2010, after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill whale sharks were documented swimming through oil“streamers.” Since whale sharks are filter feeders and skim the surface for food like zooplankton they are vulnerable to disasters like this. The oil clogs their gills, impeding their ability to absorb oxygen in the water and they eventually suffocate.

This is why national marine monuments and sanctuaries are so important. Imagine what would happen to animals like whale sharks if their waters were opened up for dredging, trawling or seabed mining?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is currently considering rescinding or reducing protections for eleven national marine sanctuaries and monuments that safeguard millions of acres of ocean waters — including places like Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and Marianas Trench Marine National Monument to name a few.

This is also your chance to do something about it!

Send a comment urging the administration not to revoke or weaken the designations or expansions of national marine sanctuaries and monuments

The National Marine Sanctuary System was created for the benefit of all Americans and future generations to conserve unique underwater places in our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes.

Speak up for animals like whale sharks! Click below to send your comments.

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