Utila is one of the few places in the world that experiences whale shark sightings year-round, and is commonly known as a ‘hotspot’ for whale shark tourism. Although many stakeholders benefit from the presence of whale sharks on the island, little is known about the life cycle of this species, or the reasons why they frequent Utila in such numbers. In addition, whale sharks on Utila are threatened by the combined impacts of pollution, boat collisions and irresponsible whale shark tourism, which might affect their long term population dynamics.
WSORC was established to increase the presence and availability of researchers in Honduras to work with whale sharks. Our aim is to gather data on whale sharks and their environmental conditions to answer some of the fundamental questions about this species such as:
- What attracts whale sharks to Utila and when are they most abundant?
- Is the number of whale sharks visiting Utila increasing or decreasing?
- How can our community reduce its impacts on whale sharks while continuing to benefit from their presence?
WSORC have been gathering data on the whale shark population since 1997, and have a comprehensive sightings database. We have been granted the only research permit to study whale sharks in the country by the Honduran Environmental Department. Our team established whale shark encounter guidelines to promote responsible whale shark encounters, and in 2008 these guidelines were passed through the Honduran parliament to protect whale sharks by law.
We currently work through four main programs:
Research- Collecting data on whale shark individuals, oceanic conditions and the surrounding coral reefs to better understand their dynamics
Community Outreach- Promoting responsible whale shark tourism, raising of awareness of conservation issues, and educating local school children about the sea
Volunteer Program- Training volunteers with the skills necessary to pursue marine conservation careers in the Caribbean
Responsible Ecotourism- Expeditions that educate participants about the marine environment while actively contributing to conservation efforts on Utila.