Galapagos Whale Shark Project

Galapagos

Critical Need

Our oceans are home to some of the largest megafauna in the world. Whale sharks, for example, are the largest shark or fish to ever swim the oceans. They can reach up to 20 meters in length and weigh over 20 tons. Despite their fearsome size and appearance, they are known as the gentle giants of the sea, feeding primarily by filtration of plankton. Whale sharks are present in all the world’s oceans, yet almost nothing is known about their natural history. Questions remain about breeding and birthing areas and “nursery” locations for the survival of young pups. Since the 1990s, whale sharks have increasingly become a target for commercial fishing. Although it is very difficult to estimate population numbers, records show a decrease in the frequency of sightings and as well as the average size of the whale shark.

Our Involvement

Planeterra has provided funding to aid in the individual identification of whale sharks so that researchers can study their breeding patterns in the Galapagos islands. This research program collects data on whale shark movements in and outside the Galapagos Marine Reserve, population dynamics and health (with specific reference to reproductive behavior). The project aims to track whale sharks using satellite tags to better understand their movements on a local, regional and global scale.

Impact

Without science and the baseline data for the whale shark species and habitat, no conservation proposals can be suggested for management purposes and for the creation of legislation that may lead to preservation. Planeterra’s partnership with the Marine Megafauna Foundation and the researchers on the Galapagos Whale Shark Project works to fill this gap in information so that appropriate policies and strategies can be put in place to protect this amazing species in the future.  The team has accomplished the first in the world ultrasounds as a major step toward learning more about this important species’ breeding grounds and the research continues.

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