Uproar over man riding whale shark

KOTA KINABALU: A viral video of a man touching and riding a whale shark in waters off an island in Semporna has outraged the local diving community there.

What’s worse is that he may have been a tourist guide who should have known better, they said.

The incident was recorded on a 17-second clip and is believed to have taken place at Pulau Sibuan on Friday.

Semporna Professional Divers Association (SPDA) president Suzimin Idris said the incident wouldn’t have happened if the guide knew how to respect wildlife and was aware of local regulations.

He pointed out that Pulau Sibuan waters was under the jurisdiction of Sabah Parks.

“SPDA has issued reminders for each dive centre to only hire qualified tourist guides,” he said in a statement yesterday.

He said the dive centres could take this approach or train their workers and divers to respect wildlife.

“Once again, the SPDA urges tourism players in Semporna to give the proper training and awareness to their staff,” Suzimin added.

He also reminded boat operators not to cast their anchors in areas with coral reefs.

He urged the authorities to take heed of the matter, which he said was becoming rampant at islands off the district.

“This is especially at Pulau Timba-Timba. Many of the coral reefs had been destroyed by anchors.

“Every day, there are more than 10 boats casting their anchors,” he said, adding the SPDA had brought up the matter via social media, but no action had been taken yet by local authorities.

The whale shark is the largest fish and is docile to humans and will sometimes allow swimmers to catch a ride.

But this is discouraged by shark scientists and conservationists.

The species is considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

This is not the first time that marine life, particularly sharks, in dive havens in Sabah have come under threat.

In 2018 viral pictures emerged of two oceanic manta rays, 13 devil rays and one shark being slaughtered by individuals on Pulau Mabul.

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