The attention by people who have paid to feed, stroke and swim with the stingrays perhaps makes them more vulnerable to disease and storms, according to the research, led by Christina Semeniuk of Canada’s Simon Fraser University.
Experts say wild populations of animals such as dolphins, penguins and sharks also are affected by increased contact with curious people. The Canadian study was one of the first to investigate direct effects on the physiology of animals involved in such tourism.
“The implications of these findings will not only affect the wildlife,” according to Semeniuk. “Reduced stingray numbers, or injured, unhealthy-looking stingrays, can cause the visitor site to become less attractive and may cause a decline in tourist numbers and have an economic impact.”
At the Caymans site, the stingrays are regularly injured by boats, the scientists found, while the crowded conditions encourage parasites. The animals also have come to rely on hand-fed squid, which stingrays do not usually eat. “These impacts can have long-term health effects, in terms of reduced longevity and reduced reproductive effort,” she said. The study results are to be published in the journal Biological Conservation.
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