Swimmers are warned not to touch whale sharks while they are swimming in the sea off Chumphon province otherwise they may face jail term of up to four years and/or a maximum fine of 40,000 baht.
The warning was issued by Mr Jatuporn Buruspat, director-general of the Marine and Coastal Resources Department, after images were posted on the social media on April 22 showing a group of swimmers touch and play with a whale shark around Ko Lao Ped Lao Kai island off Tambon Pak Klong, Pathiu district of Chumphon.
Describing the sighting of whale sharks in the sea off Chumporn as a welcome news indicative of the ecological health of the sea, he, however, said that it was improper for swimmers to touch the mammals for two reasons – the whale sharks may be infected with human diseases and that the swimmers themselves may be hurt by the animals.
The proper practice that a tourist boat should do when encountering a whale shark is for the boat to slow down its speed and keep a distance of at least 50 meters from the animal and the boat should not block its swimming path.
For a diver or a swimmer, he or she must stay still and should not do anything which is threatening or blocking the shark.
Mr Jatuporn said whale sharks are a protected species under the law and no individuals are allowed to harm them. Violation is liable to imprisonment of up to four years and/or a fine of 40,000 baht.
Tourists play with a whale shark in Chumphon sea. Photos obtained from the Marine and Coastal Resources Department.