EAWST responds to Born Free Foundation allegations

As promised, after giving BFF the opportunity to voice their issues over the Whale Shark Project at Mombasa’s south coast, here is an initial response by Volker Bassen to counter some of these allegations, with undoubtedly more to follow. Readers can and should make up their mind based on facts and NOT on mere allegations and sentiments.

Regarding the Aljazeera article, it didn’t mention a single benefit (Although James knew about them in detail) and was utterly biased. There is no mention of the estimated 300.000.000Ksh going back into the local community as well as an equal amount of money going into sustainable marine conservation projects over the next 5 years (such as the cashew nut shell oil project) all paid for by this unique PPPC (Private Public Partnership in Conservation) project. Furthermore; the enclosure (note, size does matter, this is not a cage) will serve as a rescue and rehabilitation center for injured marine animals, a first in Africa. The enclosure is the biggest of it’s kind, a 100 times the size of the Georgia aquarium in the US, the world’s largest aquarium keeping 4 whale sharks.This is very important to mention as well.

On another note; we have signed several MoU with different stakeholders such as the University of Nairobi, KMFRI (Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute is on the way, the Ministry of Fisheries have set up the Waa BMU (Beach Management Unit) since they have the legal mandate, the whale shark is a fish that doesn’t have any protection in Kenyan waters. We are planning many joint scientific research projects into whale shark biology and have received many proposals from researchers all over the world.

Regarding us "making up" the recent killings of whale sharks here in Kenya in order to "justify our incarceration of these poor whale sharks", it’s just another example of how people are twisting the truth to fit their need in order to discredit this project. We do have evidence of this or we wouldn’t come up with such allegations, see here; Our point is that the situation is NOT going to get better, rest assured, soon the Chinese are starting construction of the new Lamu port. Once the Chinese find out that there are whale shark fins to be had just 70 km North of Lamu it’s over.

Conservation demands innovation and thinking outside the box, that is what this unique project is about.

We need to showcase these majestic fish the same way we showcase our elephants, rhinos and lions. There is no better way to incite that desire to conserve them "use them or loose them", sad but true.

On a last note: Our whale shark sightings have dropped from 58 whale sharks spotted in 14 days in 2006 to 12 whale sharks spotted in 6 weeks in 2012, from 4,7 sharks per day down to 0,2 whale sharks per day in 2012…

Would be nice if you could somehow mention these above facts as well in the interest of educating your readers.

Here the YouTube videos I told you about, it’s 20 minutes long (in 2 parts) but worth to watch since it’s very informative regarding whale sharks in captivity and breeding them etc etc. &

Here a link to our research into whale shark migration, conclusion = there is no determined migration pattern recognizable of our juvenile male whale sharks (our whale shark population consists of 95 % juvenile male whale sharks, 5-6 meter in length) 100 % stayed in East Africa all year around, the majority didn’t leave our borders. http://whalesharkadventures.org/downloads/EAWST%20Tag%20Results%20Complete%20-%20small.pdf

17 Responses

  1. I’m sharing this on my group page….! Thanks for the article 😉

  2. Volker needs to understand conservation is not about making money or profiting from our unique marine species. Exploiting these animals for Disney like entertainment is all so wrong for many reasons. Why should people have to swim with captive and enclosed whale sharks in order to learn about them ? This is not a good project. Misleading the coast residents to believe this what conservation is about when its actually a business venture abusing conservation is very sad indeed.

    1. I do recall the all or nothing attitude of some ‘researchers’ and ‘gorilla advocates’ in the early 90’s when the then Uganda National Parks considered opening up the Bwindi Forest, habituate some gorilla groups and allow tracking. Some of them in fact proposed to ‘put a big lock on the door and throw the key away’ … Today, UWA and RDB – T&C could not finance their operations, leave along ever reach financial sustainability, were it not for the income generated by gorilla tracking.
      There are always two sides to the coin and the fact that I had to delete some very foulmouthed, offensive and outright threatening comments (which I c/p’d in case one of the ‘anonymous’ authors makes good of such threats and needs tracking down – my blog is set to capture all the IP addresses and identities of contributors) awaiting moderation from me shows that civility and logical debate are largely missing here in favour of a highly charged, emotionally driven, direction. There is never black and white only in life but all sorts of shades of grey in between, worth considering.

  3. I am not aware of any examples of sustainable cashew nut shell oil projects. Cashew trees and mono-culture in general have been very destructive to the fragile East African coastal forests especially in Kwale district Kenya. Coastal forests harbour a large range of unique species and are very fragmented as it is. With rapid population growth and development on the coast they are declining at exponential rate, making them arguably the most threatened biodiversity hotspot on earth.
    Investing in community development and capacity building on the coast is very desirable but has in the past 30 years proven to not benefit from financial donations at all.
    Conservation on the coast, not to even mention Whale Sharks, has many aspects and will be very complicated. Although Volker and his team might have good intentions and did do quite some research, the consequences of this project are very unpredictable. Volker and his team seem to know what they are doing form a business point of view but from what I have seen they might be completely under-prepared and underestimating the conservation side.
    If they manage to push this project through – which I think they will – then at least let’s point them in the right direction and try to pull as much “conservation” benefit out of this as possible.

  4. Thinking of Whale Sharks inside the Box?

    The Born Free Foundation feels compelled to respond to the comments made by Volker Bassen as reported on this blog. We are confused by references to quotes and allegations apparently attributed to Born Free within Bassen’s response. For example, we are unsure from where he cites the accusation of “making up” killings of whale sharks, and the reference to the “incarceration of these poor whale sharks”. To the best of our knowledge, these are not the words of the Born Free Foundation.

    However, that is not to say that we are unconcerned by the plans. We are firmly convinced that this project has the potential for serious environmental and animal welfare consequences. We have recently had sight of extensive comments by various experts and organizations on the original EIA submission by the proposed project, which all identify major concerns and inconsistencies in the submission.

    Bassen states that there is a need to showcase whale sharks in the same way that elephants, rhinos and lions are showcased. While he is entitled to his opinion, BFF does not consider that any animal should be showcased in captivity. Kenya is rightfully proud of its free-living wildlife, and has had little or no requirement nor desire to keep wild animals such as elephants, rhinos and lions in captivity for exhibition.

    Bassen makes reference to numbers of whale shark sightings and research by EAWST into migration. Such data are potentially informative, but without proper peer-review and publication it is difficult to assess their validity and usefulness. Even if it is the case that the whale sharks studied by EAWST stay in the region year-round, there is a very great difference between whale sharks staying in East Africa, or even in Kenyan waters, and keeping whale sharks in a 600 metre maximum diameter enclosure.

    We would like to ask Mr Bassen whether construction has begun on the enclosure and the site, and if so, whether the necessary permits have been sought from and issued by all the relevant Kenyan authorities?

    We firmly support greater protection for whale sharks, but the Born Free Foundation and others are convinced that this proposal is deeply flawed, and furthermore sets an unwelcome precedent for Kenya and the region.

  5. Hi Wolfgang,

    I’ve been leading a whale shark research team in Mozambique since 2005, and am now involved in whale shark research and conservation activities around the globe. The Seaquarium LTD proposal to create the ‘Waa Whale Shark Sanctuary’ was brought to my attention and I was asked to provide expert advice to submissions on the EIA. I’ve summarised a few of my reservations here.

    Unfortunately, while the project may have laudable goals on paper, the EIA did a particularly poor job of showcasing them. No detailed information was provided on community involvement or benefits, what the installation of this enclosure would mean for the marine environment, how exactly this project would benefit conservation (there was no mention of ‘rescue and rehabilitation’) or how the whale sharks would be caught or maintained. These are rather glaring omissions from an official evaluation of the ‘Sanctuary’, and mean the proposed conservation benefits of this proposal are impossible to evaluate – or take seriously.

    Whale sharks are large and highly migratory. Their movement patterns are influenced by environmental factors, such as ocean currents and seasonal changes in sea temperatures, which in turn affect the distribution of their prey species (mainly zooplankton). Whale shark abundance varies year-to-year in single locations as the sharks move around. Sightings from aerial surveys have been repeatedly cited as evidence for population decline in Kenyan whale sharks. Without information on survey technique, effort and environmental factors over a longer time period, these data (I’ve only seen 2006 and 2012 mentioned) cannot be used to determine a trend. In fact, Mafia Island in Tanzania, where ‘Kenyan’ whale sharks have previously been re-sighted, had a particularly good season over the 2012/13 summer.

    Capture of whale sharks in targeted fisheries, and their accidental bycatch, is a key threat to the species. My view is that it would be better to target these issues head-on, by lobbying the government to protect the species, rather than this very tangential approach. The communities that would be directly affected by this proposal are not the same communities that are said to be involved with fishing the sharks.

    The capture and maintenance of whale sharks is another issue entirely, and not one that I’m going to address in detail here (although I can in a follow-up if desired).

    Whale shark tourism, i.e. swimming with wild sharks, is well-established in many countries (including Mozambique, Tanzania, Djibouti and the Seychelles within the Western Indian Ocean) and there is solid scientific evidence for sustainability and documented community benefits. Kenya has a great reputation for wild animal encounters, and genuine whale shark eco-tourism would be an excellent addition to those experiences. My suggestion would be for the Seaquarium LTD team to revise their project toward that objective, and move away from this controversial – and questionable – proposal.

    Simon Pierce (PhD)

    Principal Scientist, Marine Megafauna Foundation (www.marinemegafauna.org)
    Director, Science Coordinator, ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-ID Library (www.whaleshark.org)

  6. Hi W … my comments on the proposal by Seaquarium Ltd are contained in detailed responses to the EIA submitted by GIBB Africa on their behalf, and which you can download from our website at http://www.cordioea.net/whaleshark.

    Like Aaron Nicholas and Simon Pierce, I find very little of factual substance behind Seaquarium and EAWST’s justifications, in particular their interpretation that the massive decline in sightings from 2006 to 2010 is a result of fishing locally (mirroring their interpretation that the massive increase in sightings in 2006 from earlier years was because of fishing elsewhere). Much more likely that long term/decadal cycles, linked to El Nino and other phenomena, influence the ocean currents that control where the plankton that the whale shark feed on aggregate.

    There is a litany of factual errors and ommissions in both the EIA and EAWST’s claims that together with their complete lack of experience in looking after large fish in captivity makes this a very risky proposal.

    The confluence of business interests and conservation/community benefits is a tough one to get right, and in this case many of us don’t think he has succeeded. Even the community side is highly suspect, and looks more like a series of airy promises that they have little experience in bringing to fruition – whether it is delivering sustainable cashewnut oil as a business, or an implausible projection of 50 visitors every day for 300 days a year … it just doesn’t add up.

    Thanks for posting this discussion!!

    David Obura
    CORDIO East AFrica

  7. Oh … I forgot one thing. W’s comment on Bwindi gorillas and tracking is a good one. But that is equivalent to what EAWST and the other whale shark projects have been doing for the last 5-15 years, depending on the country – taking visitors out to look for whale sharks in the wild, and coming back home with a fantastic experience – but no guarantee of seeing them. What they are proposing to do with whale sharks would be like Bwindi catching a couple of gorillas every six months and holding them in an open cage at the park gate. Now try and get THAT proposal passed by the authorities!!

  8. Having gone through Obura’s comments to NEMA in detail it is obvious that he is trying to discredit the project and me personally, so be it. I do agree that he has some (few) valid points regarding the EIA and we will work them out and address these during the public NEMA hearing. However, it should be noted that we did include our visual presentation, the Waa whale shark sanctuary in the EIA. This must have been missed by Obura although I firmly believe he omits these facts intentionally. Anyone who has gone through Obura’s comments to NEMA and watched the above documentary will see that 70 % of Obura’s comments/concerns are answered here. Fact is: we have FULL support from world-renowned scientists and researchers, all with in-depth knowledge about this unique initiative.
    With Obura’s comment about our project “becoming the single largest cause of whale shark mortality in East Africa” one gets the impression that we are about to launch a commercial fisheries targeting whale sharks!
    He then goes on to question our integrity (several times) about our whale shark figures which he says (repeatedly) “doesn’t add up” Well, even Graham’s figures are all estimates, we on the other hand included aquariums holding whale sharks to our figures and considering that both the Churaumi aquarium as well as the Georgia aquarium have around 3.000.000 visitors per year @ U$ 30 per tourist (not including accommodation, food and souvenirs) you do the maths, are Obura’s figures of the annual worldwide whale shark tourism being worth U$42.000.000 per year valid? Not at all, they are totally wrong.
    Furthermore, our estimates of Ksh 300.000.000 going into the Waa community coffers over the next 5 years are indeed valid. Consider this: Holbox/Mexico started their whale shark tourism project in 2002 generating U$240.000 the first year (in a 4 month season, we will have a 10 month season) in 2007 this had risen to a staggering U$12.800.000. If we would have a similar growth rate Ksh 300.000.000 is a gross underestimate. On that note: clear MoU’s are in place between us and the Waa community, after all, this project is a private public partnership.
    There are many flaws in Obura’s comments which we feel are totally misleading and reflects a certain degree of incompetence: “What is the impact of capture on the family/social groups since the whale sharks are usually in aggregations?” Is Obura aware that we are talking about sharks? Whale sharks are solitary animals, WHALES do have family/social groups, not so the whale shark, nor any other shark species. Obura is a coral researcher, he should stick to what he knows, the above comment is, frankly speaking, embarrassing.
    Obura then goes on to state that we didn’t involve KWS. Well, truth be told: we approached Wa Mwachai, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Forestry & Wildlife (KWS is under this ministry) already 2 years ago and we had several meetings. We also had a meeting with Wa Mwachai and KWS lead scientist (marine devision) Mohamed Said Omar in Mombasa more than a year ago, both pledging their support for the Waa whale shark sanctuary. WE got the whale shark in the new wildlife bill, although it remains to be seen when it passes.

    We have been working on Obura’s NEMA comments and are preparing our own comments which we will address during the NEMA hearing, rest assured. The above response to some of Obura’s comments presents a small part only.

    On another note: ever since the Born Free Foundation and Obura started their media campaign against me and the project I have been receiving threats, even death threats, my daughter (14) was being bullied on Facebook and obscene emails is the daily norm. “What goes around comes around” and I pray that this one day will happen. I have nothing to hide, my intentions are true and honest, the sharks being my main concern. I am entitled to my opinion that we need to showcase these majestic sharks in order to awake the desire to conserve them, just the way we showcase our elephants and rhinos. Being harassed and tormented for my opinion/beliefs is indeed disheartening but also makes me more determined than ever to show people like David Obura and his cronies wrong one day.

  9. Oh… I forgot one thing. My statement posted by Wolfgang refers to the Aljazeera article and comments made by Raabia Hawa. I am not going to issue a statement regarding the Born Free Foundation and AARon’s article other than: it’s totally biased and misleading. Here a comment I received which reflects my own position, irony at it’s best!

    By Robin Day: Hear this, I would be the first one to criticise any form of creature incarceration but surely the research and study work that Volker Bassen has done already with whale sharks over now, many years, at least qualifies him to engage in this venture ??
    There is a bigger picture here and not just as set out in the introduction !!??
    Lest it gets lost in translation along the way as so often happens, it is only intended to “place two (2) juvenile whale sharks in a sanctuary where visitors will have an opportunity to swim with the whale sharks”.
    That is not the whole story !!
    I remember way back in time when George Adamson was derided for keeping his lions like he did but in doing so had the opportunity to learn so much about those animals and the charitable fund form the book (Born Free) allowed the purchase of land (Kora) to provide a safe habitat for those creatures and also a minor tourist attraction !!
    Many years passed before the “Adamson’s” had the respect of their peers !!
    Surely this is a similar venture into the unknown and at least the intention is to promote tourism into an economy that needs all it can get without actually harming these creatures and an opportunity to learn from direct contact ??
    Like most ventures like this there are always 2 sides to listen and learn from and at the moment only one side is being promoted in this thread and at least the man is not intending to kill and profit from the deaths of these creatures – unlike many other commercially motivated murders of natural species in this part of Africa.

  10. I’ll be honest and say that I never took much interest in whalesharks until this project came up (for that I apologize), though I am very sure I’m not the only one. But this is only one of the reasons why I find this project interesting. By EAWST bringing the plight of whalesharks into the limelight I think they deserve a thumbs up.

    I also don’t know how much research has been done on the whalesharks around our coast but from what I’ve read there doesn’t seem to be any source besides EAWST. Hence someone even argues that their findings haven’t been subjected to peer reviews. Why should that be EAWST’s problem? As the accuser and a concerned party you should seek to validate the research. I find that they have been more than willing to clear up any grey areas and I have no reason not to believe their “facts”. I am also more inclined to go with the side that seems to have a plan. What disturbs me is all the criticism and “suggestions” that are being brought forward yet no one, seems to be interested in taking on whaleshark conservation. I have heard it mentioned before that whalesharks are not the property of Volker Bassen and I agree. So why don’t YOU do something? I find these attacks rather selfish. I don’t know if this project will succeed or not, but I appreciate the fact that someone is concerned enough to try. I don’t believe that all these years of whaeshark research have been geared towards setting up a “money-making venture”. I trust that EAWST is genuinely concerned about the whaleshark species.

    So I think concerns are valid. However when learned professionals seek to discredit a fellow colleague’s proposal by misrepresenting information it is very disappointing. There must be a distinction among people who have gone to school. When you use references such as “cage” and “captivity” you intentionally paint a picture of an individual in prison. And the fact that Bassen has tried to express his efforts towards making it as comfortable as possible (e.g. x100 that in the US, with only 2 individuals) isn’t bearing any fruit. I agree that the conditions are not perfect but look around you: Historically elephants would move from Nairobi to Amboseli/Tsavo and well into Tanzania. Aren’t they highly migratory? Aren’t they affected by environmental factors? How about wildebeests outside the Mara ecosystem, do they migrate? All over Kenya we have areas that have been zoned for conservation and every large individual has a limited range. Does this qualify as captivity, or are they free-living? Are they in enclosures? People pay money to go and see these individuals, are they not being showcased? When you stop somewhere and take pictures is that not an exhibit?
    To take nothing from such conservation areas they try their level best to make the conditions as natural and comfortable as possible, just like what EAWST is trying to do. But it will never be ideal. This project will not set off any sort of precedent. The precedent was set a long time ago and this criticism is rather late. The need to fence conservation areas (for the sake of the species) is only getting stronger.

    Finally, I wish we could stop bringing up this notion that EAWST is using whalesharks to make money. All over Kenya people pay fees to view wildlife. The managers of these wildlife are not living on the street. The fact that this project has the potential to generate a lot of money cannot be used as a basis to discredit a project.
    May I suggest Born Free directs some of its boma funds towards expanding the enclosure?

  11. The decision by NEMA to deny the license for the whale shark project is typical of a 3rd world country refusing to take the necessary steps toward progress..shortsighted would be an understatement.
    One step forward then 3 steps back. The reasons for the refusal of the license were flimsy at best and outright laughable. It may seem like a victory but it is a merely winning of a small battle…the war will rage on.

    Perhaps our opposition could comment on the following facts. Kenya has many captive animal parks, Zoos, which have been conveniently overlooked in this debate. Hypocrisy at its finest. Examples are Safari Walk (a zoo operated by the Kenya Wildlife Service), Haller Park, Giraffe Manor, Mamba Village and countless snake / reptile parks. There are also many fenced in conservation areas such as Aberdares Nat’l Park, Tsavo West Rhino Sanctuary, Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary, Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary and countless private conservancies and ranches. These fenced in conservation areas inhibit ancient wildlife migration routes and disrupt their instinctive need for movement BUT the fencing is considered necessary for conservation efforts. How can our opponents criticize us when the precedent for fencing in wild free animals was set long ago worldwide and most notably in Kenya? How can someone argue that keeping a whale shark in the ocean in a seaquarium is not in its natural habitat? Is the rhino in his sanctuary in his natural habitat in the heart of the bush in Tsavo West? This argument defies any logical debate.

    I have been a volunteer with the EAWST since its inception. I’ve swam with many whale sharks over the years and it is always an incredible experience. I have a deep love and respect for wildlife of all kinds. Humans have an ancient genetic interest and fascination of animals. Countless millions, probably billions of people have visited zoos and aquariums over the many years and decades. I think its safe to say that the majority of those people were not against animals in captivity and in fact were enlightened and inspired after their visit to those facilities. Seeing live animals up close allows the individual to become more engaged with them, more emotionally attached to them. You have to see that level of attachment before you can motivate people to take the political action to save these creatures. – “We conserve what we love. We cannot love something to which we cannot relate. We cannot love something that is abstract, distant or hidden, or else we love the mere fact that it IS abstract, distant or hidden. For the sake of conservation and getting the public excited about loving and protecting sharks, these whale sharks and the like must be taken into captivity to let people see them. There is no better way to incite that desire to conserve!” – Andy , Shark Biologist

    Also overlooked by our opposition are the benefits to the local community through revenue created from the project. These figures have been well documented, 50% of the proceeds will go into ongoing and new marine conservation initiatives and back to the community. Our opposition labels this as ‘false promises’ and justification for the project. We call it philanthropy and progressive, innovative thinking.

    In my opinion the only reason that this issue has gotten this far is because of the aesthetic beauty of the whale shark. It is a majestic, mysterious, curious, beautiful awe- inspiring creature. However, if we were talking about making a stonefish sanctuary then I doubt any of the opponents would have uttered a word.

    The Waa Whale Shark Sanctuary project is absolutely essential to the conservation of whale sharks in Kenya. This is because the threat of the Chinese who are coming to build the new port in Lamu will figure out that they can make big money by killing whale sharks for their fins. It is legal to kill a whale shark in Kenya, it only has to be reported to the fisheries dept. In fact if the local fishermen knew of this potential then the slaughter would be swift and relentless. http://media.murdoch.edu.au/emerging-whale-shark-‘crisis’-in-china A recent study (Norman ) valued a single whale shark fin at over $50,000! Look at the elephant and rhino poaching epidemic which is fuelled exclusively by demand from China and Asia. These animals are protected by thousands of armed rangers with millions of dollars in support. Who will protect the whale sharks…the EAWST! Through the lobbying of the EAWST the whale shark was included in the new wildlife bill to be protected, but no thanks or recognition of this has been acknowledged. This potential disaster of seeing our whale sharks murdered for rich Asians to enjoy their shark fin soup will not happen in our backyard. The EAWST and Seaquarium Ltd. are the only groups to EVER address the welfare of whale sharks in Kenya and will continue to do so with more villegence than ever before. The minority of hardline, anti-captive animal activists will not succeed in their zealous, selfish and shortsighted campaign.

    “First they ignore you,.then they laugh at you..then they fight you..then you win.”
    – Mahatma Gandhi

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: