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Community News

Marine conservation in India, engenders pup birth of the extraordinary Whale Shark.

A whale shark pup has been rescued at a marine conservation area in Gujarat, India, indicating that whale sharks are now reproducing in this recently protected area.

"It's exciting for us to notice the presence of a whale shark pup as this indicates that whale sharks feel at home and are comfortable breeding here on the shores on Gujarat", said Alka Talwar, Head of Community Development at Tata Chemicals, which is also involved with the conservation project.

Local fisherman, Mohan Beem Solanki reported that the recent whale shark pup was found in the nets of a fishing trawler off Sutrapada coast in Junagadh district, with a spokesperson from Tata Group highlighting that, ’the rescued whale shark was around 60cm long, which is the expected size of a month or two-month-old pup’.

whale sharkin net from dnaindiaThis is a huge breakthrough bearing in mind the Shark Fisheries Management and Biology report by T.Walker which details, ‘major declines in shark stocks being recorded'. The report goes on to highlight that 'some species have been depleted by over 90% over the past 20–30 years, with population declines of 70% not unusual’.

Despite relatively limited information being available on population trends for the Whale Shark, the World Conservation Union's Red List (2003) classifies the species as "vulnerable". This is because fishery data

for the Whale Shark, though quite scarce, ‘points to a decline in seasonal catches’, which was detailed in the Whale Shark Issues Paper from the Department of the Environment and Heritage, May 2005. For example, ‘(whale shark) catches from Taiwan's commercial fishery have declined by 30-90% from the 1960s - 1980s, 50-80% from the mid 1980s to the 1990s, and around 70% during the four years from 1997 to 2001. In fact, in Gujarat, India, Whale Shark catches appeared to have declined by 40% in 1999-2000’, concluded the Whale Shark Issues Paper.

This conservation project, which was launched in 2004, was in response to such data and ‘advocates the release of trapped whale sharks’ to help sustainability and population growth of the whale shark. As part of the program, ‘locals and fishermen are educated about the existence of the fish and its docile nature. Fishermen are compensated for the damage to nets since they are cut to release the trapped fish’, said a recent Reuters report.

The life history of this relatively scarce, tropical and warm temperate species is poorly understood, but they migrate extremely large distances. Catches have declined and ‘populations have apparently been depleted by harpoon fisheries in several countries, targeting localised concentrations of this huge, slow-moving and behaviourally-vulnerable species’, said the Whale Shark Issue Paper. There are also many incidental captures in other fisheries. ‘Directed fisheries, high value in international trade, their highly migratory nature, and low abundance make this species vulnerable to exploitation’, continued the Whale Shark Issue Paper. 

This project claims to have saved over 350 whale sharks, locally known as 'vhali', in the Saurashtra region. Part of the success of the project has been the establishment of a marine conservation centre to carry out research on the fish along Gujarat's coast. This was completed in 2008 and is a joint venture between Gujarat Forest Department, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and Tata Chemicals. "The recent rescue of whale shark pup is due to our campaign, in association with Tata Chemicals, which has been successful in creating awareness among local fishermen about this breed", highlighted B C Choudhury, Senior Advisor at WTI.

Experts believe that the recent sighting of a whale shark pub indicates that they are now swimming all the way from Australian shores to Gujarat to reproduce. "The sighting of a sub-metre whale shark is very rare. This particular pup, it looks like, was born this year. Its presence off the coast of Gujarat suggests that whale sharks are breeding in this area", said Rachel Graham, a member of Scientific Advisory Committee of the project.

This conservation project in India is therefore a huge achievement and a model for success, in a country thawhale shark from livemintt it is claimed ‘intense exploitation of commercial marine species has reportedly led to threats of species loss’, said K.S. Mohamed in his report about depleted and Collapsed Marine Fish Stocks along Southwest Coast of India. The report also claims that ‘the identification of depleted and collapsed fish stocks in the light of loss of biodiversity has been engaging the attention of marine fishery scientists all over the world’. Therefore, the whale shark pub birth is an amazing feat and important progress to their survival, and hopefully the ecological survival of other marine life in the area.

 india wildlife trust copy 2

Last modified onTuesday, 15 July 2014 08:13
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