As with other nature-based tourism ventures, whale shark tourism is expanding rapidly worldwide, which highlights the need to understand more about the nature of these activities. Records of interactions between tour operators and whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia (22.5°S, 113.5°E) were obtained from the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife from 2006 to 2010 and evaluated to determine the scale of the tourism operations and the spatial and temporal distribution of interactions. The number of whale shark tours at Ningaloo increased by approx. 70% (520–886 tours per year) and the number of interactions with whale sharks by 370% between 2006 (694) and 2010 (3254). The locations of whale shark interactions recorded in logbooks (2006–2009) and electronic monitoring systems (2009 and 2010) were used to plot the smoothed densities of tour operator interactions with whale sharks. Generalised linear models were used to investigate how the presence/absence and number of whale shark interactions at North and South Ningaloo were influenced by the distance to the reef crest, the distance to passages and their interaction terms for the aggregated five-year data set. Over the five years, distance to the reef crest was the best predictor of the presence/absence of whale shark interactions at both North (interactions concentrated within 3 km of the reef crest) and South Ningaloo (interactions within 6 km of the reef crest) followed by distance to passages. The reef passages are very significant areas for tourism interactions with whale sharks at Ningaloo. The distribution of interactions at North and South Ningaloo varied from year to year, particularly in the strong La Niña year of 2010, when average sea surface temperatures remained above 24 °C and whale sharks were observed much later in the year than previously (late August). This study demonstrates the value of the data collected by the tour operators at Ningaloo Reef and managed by a government agency for the conservation and sustainable whale shark tourism
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