INDIAN OCEAN (NBC News) — Whale watching on the Indian Ocean island of reunion may be a victim of its own success after a series of run-ins between a female humpback and over-eager divers seizing a rare chance to swim with the creatures.
Since the start of the season back in June, some 230 humpback whales have been counted in the area by scientists and this week it was a mother and her calf who were attracting the attention of several tourist boats.
According to local conservationists, too often the spotters do not respect guidelines, provoking one agitated female to take swipes with her fins, which can be up to 18 feet wide for some in the species.
Patrol boats swoop in on tourists who break the rules.
Since June they have approached 500 boats and conservationists say that only one in four follow the rules.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that French-owned reunion island is one of the rare sites where swimming with whales is allowed.
Whale watching is a major draw for tourists and has increased in recent years, prompting authorities to set up a brigade last year to protect the local sea life.
The whale season is now coming to an end and will have lasted nearly six months.