Category Archives: Education

Whale Sharks In Captivity

We know as fact that whale sharks do several deep dives everyday. They do not fare well in captivity.

Please go to www.whalesharkpetition.com and sign the petition. Tell all your friends to do the same.

Resorts World at Sentosa wants to import whale sharks for the attraction and entertainment of visitors. Whale sharks are vulnerable to extinction and have never done well in captivity. They can grow as large as two city buses, migrate thousands of kilometers in the wild, and live up to a hundred years. It is just plain cruel to keep them in glass cages.

Whale sharks have never fared well in captivity. Two whale sharks died within five months of each other at the Georgia Aquarium.

Write to the Minister of National Development, the Singapore Tourism Board and
Resorts World at Sentosa before this tragedy happens on our shores.

Think of all the whale sharks swimming wild and free, think of how very little we know about these gentle giants and then think of them dying in aquariums. Please sign the petition.

Thank you.

WHALE SHARKS IN AN AQUARIUM – WHATEVER NEXT?

The Georgia Aquarium has 4 whale sharks in captivity. They are held in a pool the size of a football stadium and it is 10 metres deep. Although 2 of their previous sharks died all of the 4 sharks they have now appear to be doing well. As I told you the presentation made at the conference about the Georgia Aquarium was a very cohesive, coherent and illuminating account.

The whale sharks were taken from Taiwan. They were apparently on the slaughter list and if this is the case then they were indeed saved from a gruesome death. If you think about the mechanices involved in getting a whale shark from Taiwan all the way to Atlanta, Georgia you might start to appreciate the lengths they went to!! First they had to be found and coralled into a net at sea then herded into a netted pool where they were kept for some time (2 weeks I think). This gave the sharks a chance to get used to people.

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It also gave them a chance to get used to being hand fed.

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They were then scooped up out of this pool…

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And deposited into their container which would be home for the next 36 hours.

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Because they were so important they got a police escort to the airport like the proper VIPS they are! This was the only picture that made me smile during the presentation (albeit a rather small smile).

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And then they were loaded in the plane for the long journey to Atlanta. The plane was fully sponsored by UPS for USD 1 million, yes that’s right, USD 1 MILLION.

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When they arrived in Atlanta the same process was repeated and they were finally released into their new home. Divers were stationed round the edges so they could orientate themselves properly and not get confused by the glass. They are examined regularly and for the first time we get pictures like these: this is the inside of a whale shark’s mouth –

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They do regular gastric sampling which involves sticking a huge tube down their throats.

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And (drum roll please) the inside of a whale shark’s stomach – I bet you haven’t seen that before!

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Many people don’t agree with holding highly migratory animals in captivity. To be honest, I think it’s terrible. Volker, along with many others, disagrees with me. He says that everyone who goes to the aquarium and sees a whale shark will become a whale shark ambassador. I do hope he is right. I don’t agree with keeping a whale shark in an aquarium to make money (because let’s face it, that’s what this is really about). It has been scientifically proven that whale sharks dive down to hundreds of metres several times a day. They travel thousands of miles, peacefully cruising our seas. How can it be ok to stick them in a pool the size of football stadium? It doesn’t sit well with me. You are now able to swim with the whale sharks in the aquarium too for (I think) USD200.

Having said that, the Georgia Aquarium takes really good care of the sharks. They are healthy and seemingly happy. They are in much better shape than the poor sharks in the Japanese aquarium in Okinawa. Someone told me that the sharks there have sores on their fins from bumping into the glass all the time.

These kids are watching a whale shark and it’s probably the most amazing thing they have ever seen. The reasoning is that a lot of people will not have the opportunity to see a whale shark in the wild.

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Bruce Carlson was peppered with questions after his talk on the Georgia Aquarium. People wanted to know where they would get their whale sharks from in future now that Taiwan has banned the whale shark trade. He wouldn’t tell us. He did say something that struck me as true though – he said we don’t live in a perfect world. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to hold any animals in captivity at all. There is no doubt that we are learning a great deal about whale sharks thanks to those in the Georgia Aquarium. I suppose it’s all about where you draw a line and whether you feel the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

For me, I look at the misty mountains in the top picture of the Taiwanese coast where the sharks were captured and my overwhelming feeling is one of great sadness.

FROM HOLBOX AROUND THE WORLD

Greetings from Holbox island (pronounced “Holbosh”), venue of the 2nd International Whale Shark Conference. It is so exciting to be here and now the conference is well underway. We started on Tuesday with an opening address. Paco Remolina from CONANP (the National Protected Areas body) has been in charge of organising the conference and here he is welcoming us.

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Note the very cool logo for the conference – can you see that it is the inside of a whale shark’s mouth with all the countries of the world in dots representing the whale sharks spots? Very clever!

We have 3 interesting days full of presentations from all over the world. Rachel Graham from the WCS presented some new work from Madagascar where she has been putting our acoustic tags. This was particularly relevant to us because we will be putting out tags with Rachel in November. It will start giving us an idea on whether we are sharing sharks with countries close by. We have also had fascinating talks by the Mexican delegation. They just have so many sharks here in Holbox – it is incredible! Look at this picture. Can you count how many sharks there are in the frame? Can you imagine what it must feel like to be surrounded by that many sharks?

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The Indian representative Vivek Talwar gave a very good presentation too. The Indian story is another amazing one. In the area of Gujarat they used to slaughter whale sharks to export the meat and fins to Taiwan, China etc. Now thanks to a very ingenous campaign using religious leaders they have completely stopped the slaughter. Whale sharks in India are completely safe 🙂 and this is so important as we suspect Gujarat may be a breeding area because they see many large females there. The Indian campaign focused on re-education, and it really worked!

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They have made a life size whale shark which they take from village to village on their campaign. We plan to do this in Kenya as it has worked so well in India! It costs around USD500 to make so if you want to help us start this ball rolling please donate!

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They use children to send the message that whale sharks need to be protected and that they are more valuable to us alive. Note that India has done very little research and has no real whale shark tourism yet they have an incredible whale shark conservation campaign. Watch this space for when they start doing research and perhaps tourism. It will be very interesting to see what happens.

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Brent presented the research we have done todate which of course had everyone on the edge of their seats because we have put out the most number of satellite tags in one place on whale sharks EVER!! Here he is blowing everyone away with his data so far 🙂 Again we don’t have all the results in yet and will have to wait for the tags to come off next year for all the answers.

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Perhaps the most interesting and controversial presentation so far has been by Bruce Carlson from the Atlanta Aquarium where they currently have 4 whale sharks in captivity. Bruce made a really cohesive presentation and I will post about that tomorrow. I have some amazing photos on what they have been doing for whale sharks in Atlanta and how they transported the animals. Some people feel that large, highly migratory animals like whale sharks should not be held in captivity so his talk really provoked some very heated debate. I am interested to hear your views on this. The Atlanta Aquarium has proposed that they host the next conference. Some delegates immediately said they would boycott it! What do you think? I am going to tell you my views tomorrow when I do a full post on Atlanta.

A lot of the delegates have gone out whale shark watching but I wasn’t feeling well so have stayed in the village, grateful for a lie in and a chance to catch up with some work. We have had really long days during the conference because there is so much work to do. Here is a picture of the sunset here and on that note I will say goodbye until tomorrow!

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MEXICO DREAMING

I have spent all day at my computer applying for travel funding for the 2nd International Whale Shark conference to be held in Mexico this July. Here is an excerpt of my justification of attendance document in support of my application.

Background:The story goes that when God created the whale shark he was so pleased with his handiwork that he gave his angels handfuls of gold and silver coins to throw down from heaven into the sea. These coins landed on the whale shark’s back as it swam peacefully near the surface and that is why the whale shark is called “papa shillingi” which translates as “shark covered in shillings”. So it is that whale sharks swim near the surface as a way of saying thank you to their maker. Whale sharks have called Kenyan waters home for many years. Recently, there has been a significant increase which is perhaps related to the post El Nino mantis shrimp invasion. Based on Diani Beach the East African Whale Shark Trust was founded by Volker Bassen in response to the dramatic increase in sightings as well as increased interest from the tourist sector. The increase in whale sharks along the Kenyan coast has meant that they have become more of a target. Under international law, whale sharks are only given a secondary type of protection. They are listed under CITES Appendix II meaning that trade in whale sharks is allowed but must be monitored. Although relatively little is known about the biggest fish in the ocean, most specialists will agree that this level of protection is not enough. The overall aim of many whale shark projects is to raise awareness so that the level of protection afforded to whale shark is increased. The more we know about whale sharks the easier it will be to review the level of protection. The EAWST aims to provide a research centre for collecting and analyzing data on the local whale shark population, its habits and movements. The Trust will work closely with other regional organizations because whale sharks are migratory. About the whale shark:Seen as an indicator of a healthy marine eco-system, whale sharks are filter feeders. They eat plankton, sieving it from the water through their gills. They are often seen swimming slowly along with their mouths agape, feeding as they move through the water. They can grow up to 18m and weigh up to 20 tons. They give birth to live young. They are solitary creatures for the most part and live in temperate waters around the equator, both along coastlines and in the open seas. Recent studies have revealed that they can dive to depths of over 1000m and that they spend most of their time at great depths, coming to the surface mostly at night to feed when the plankton rises with the diminishing ambient light. Threats:The major threat the whale sharks in our waters face is being caught in the local fishermen’s large mesh nylon drift nets. Unfortunately this is getting increasingly common. Joint initiatives are underway between the EAWST and local fishermen to encourage more environmentally friendly fishing methods.  EAWST:The EAWST has various projects underway, perhaps the most exciting being our tagging programmes. 2007 marked the first ever successful tagging expedition to be run off the coast of Africa. Over 50 whale sharks were spotted and 11 tagged in an 8 day period. Various tags were deployed including satellite tags and streamer tags; DNA samples were also taken. In 2008 we made history by tagging 17 whale sharks with satellite tags – the most ever to be tagged in one place at the same time with satellite tags. We spotted over 40 whale sharks in a 10 day period. April 2008 will see our first acoustic tagging expedition in conjunction with WCS.  About the tags:The satellite tags can store data for up to one year after which the tag is released by a timer and the data is transmitted via satellite. These tags give data such as dive profile, ambient light, and salinity levels. From that it is possible to work out migration patterns. These tags cost around USD 5000 each. The archival tags are considerably cheaper at USD 600 a piece and whilst they store similar data they have to be removed from the whale shark in order to retrieve the data. Acoustic tags at USD 250 each very quickly give us an idea of our local population. Whenever a shark swims within a certain radius of the underwater receiver the data is stored and retrieved weekly. Finally the streamer tags are small numbered flags that are attached to the whale shark to allow visual identification. Mexico Conference:

The potential for conservation, education and tourism in Kenya is enormous as people travel all over the world to see whale sharks in remote places such as Mexico and Australia. Kenya is easily accessible to the European market in particular, as well as having other attractions such as our beautiful game parks. Attending the Mexico conference will promote our country by raising the profile of whale sharks in Kenya. Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the sea and whilst they belong to the shark family they are completely harmless and eat plankton. As a flagship species of our ocean they deserve the ultimate level of protection and respect. We still have so much to learn about the whale shark and international conferences are a crucial way of collaborating the work that is being done world-wide. It is important for Kenya to be represented at the conference so that we are given the opportunity of presenting our work in this field todate particularly the tagging research that we have started.

 Wish me luck with my applications! You can help by telling all your friends about our blog so that they can follow our work and donate to help save whale sharks in Kenya! 

PUBLISHING SOS

I don’t know if you remember me telling you about the children’s book I have written about a whale shark. I would be so grateful for any information on how to go about publishing it. If any of you know anything about publishing or if you know anyone who would be able to help me I would really appreciate it. Having never done anything quite like this before I want to know as much about the publishing world as I can before committing to one publisher. I have already had 2 offers but want to go with the absolute best!! Really the initial goal was to have as many children read the book as possible thereby spreading awareness far and wide. Initially I thought just for Kenya  but now I want children all over the world to read it! So if you can help me achieve this it would be wonderful!! It will also be a good way of raising funds for the trust (I hope!).

Volker and I are going away for a few weeks so we might not blog as much as we have been. Will stay in touch though and let you know of course if we get any data from Brent or any news about any of the other tags.

Thanks again for all your support!

Three Cheers for Cuba!!

Cuba helps the Hawksbill

Cuba
has closed down its “fishery” of 500 hawksbills a year giving a lifeline to
Caribbean
turtles in the region.
© WWF-Canon / Cat Holloway

Nesting Magnitude –

Cuba

.
© WWF

22 Jan 2008

Cuba
has thrown a lifeline to the
Caribbean
‘s endangered and critically endangered marine turtles with a ministerial resolution ending all harvesting of marine turtles.

Such a resolution, ending

Cuba

‘s long standing harvest of 500 critically endangered hawksbill turtles a year, has been sought by conservationists for more than a decade. It will benefit turtles hatching on beaches throughout the
Caribbean
and coming regularly to feed in Cuban waters.

Like marine turtles worldwide, the
Caribbean
‘s endangered green and loggerhead turtles are threatened by the loss of nesting and feeding habitats, egg collection, entanglement in fishing gear, climate change, and pollution. Hawksbill turtles are also threatened by hunting for tortoise shell and suffered global population declines of 80 per cent over the last century.

“This far-sighted decision represents an outstanding outcome for
Cuba
, for the wider
Caribbean
, and for conservation,” said Dr. Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF International’s Species Programme.

Cuba

is to be commended for the example it has set in intelligent decision-making informed by science and the long term best interests of its people”.

The phase out of the marine turtle fishery in

Cuba

is the result of a joint effort by the Cuban Ministry of Fisheries and WWF, with financial support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

“This decision reflects the political will of the Cuban government to join the call of the international community to adopt measures that guarantee the conservation of marine turtles”, declared Dr. Elisa Garcia, Director of Fishing Regulations at the Ministry of Fisheries of Cuba.

The two remaining fishing communities used to harvest marine turtles in

Cuba

are being provided with funds and technical assistance to help them implement specifically developed sustainable economic alternatives, modernize their fishing fleets, re-train their inhabitants and engage them in hawksbill turtle protection activities.

The WWF/CIDA grant of over $400,000 also supports the Ministry’s Centre for Fisheries Research to become a regional hub for marine turtle conservation and research, capitalizing on decades of experience by leading Cuban scientists. It will also strengthen the Office for Fisheries Inspection (the Cuban Fisheries law enforcement group) to ensure compliance with the ban.

Recent research has shown that the Hawksbill’s preference for feeding on sponges means it plays a significant but until recently unappreciated role in the continued health of coral reefs, by opening up new feeding opportunities for some varieties of reef fish.

We at the EAWST think this is great news – only yesterday 3 large turtles washed up on Diani beach, having died in a fisherman’s net. We are continue to work hard to present realistic alternatives to the traditional nets but it is an uphill struggle. So we really are encouraged when we hear positive things like what is happening in Cuba. Good job Cuba!!

Whale Shark Tag Anyone?

We are getting ready for our annual whale shark research expeditions which will run from February 18. This year our scientist from HUBBS Seaworld Research Institute will arrive with 15 satellite tags. That is HUGE if you count that one tag is worth USD5000. Last year we deployed 3 satellite tags. This year we hope to deploy all 15. It will be history in the making!

We have also had donated from the WCS an accoustic array and will work together to set up the first accoustic array in Kenya. The array of tags and gear is currently somewhere between Diani beach and Belize, so we will let you know when the equipment arrives. We are very excited about starting a new type of research. The accoustic tags are a lot cheaper at about USD200 each and the beacons are around USD500. We will put the beacons at various whale shark hot spots along our coast line, starting in Diani. When a tagged shark comes within a certain radius of the beacon it is recorded and we can gather data on how faithful the whale sharks of Diani are to this area. Eventually we will have beacons all along our coast and that way we can see how faithful our Kenyan whale sharks are to these waters.

We still do not have an official sponsor and desperately need help to make the research expeditions work. Specifically we need funds for the spotter plane as the fuel is very expensive and the plane is crucial in helping us spot the sharks. So if you can help us even in just a small (or BIG) way, please do! You can ADOPT a shark if you want by helping us buy more tags or contributing towards a tag. You will then be able to name the shark when we tag it and we will send you updates whenever it is tracked.

Then when your friends ask if anything exciting happened to you today you can say that you adopted a whale shark 🙂