We were in heaven last night with Katya Grineva, a world renowned concert pianist, playing for whale sharks. Katya’s playing was sublime, beyond magic, beyond dreams. Here is an excerpt of the speech I made –
“Good evening everyone, it is an absolute pleasure to welcome you all here at the lovely home of David and Channa. This is a landmark event. A world renowned concert pianist has come to Kenya to play for the whale sharks. Even standing here now I can’t quite believe it! We are extremely honoured to have Katya Grineva here with us this evening. For those of you wondering the whale shark is the largest fish in the ocean, it is a shark not a whale. It can grow up to 18 metres long and can weigh up to 20 tons. It is a plankton feeder, meaning it is completely harmless. It spends a large part of its time on the surface, making it vulnerable to capture.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have plenty of whale sharks just outside our main reef. In many parts of the world, whale shark fins and liver are sold for exorbitant sums. The East African Whale Shark Trust want to curb any possibility of such trends taking off on our shores. Under the international agreement CITES whale sharks are on Appendix 2 meaning that their slaughter is allowed but any trade must be monitored. Almost all experts in the field agree that this protection is inadequate and many organisations including this one continue to lobby fiercely for increased and complete protection which would put them on Appendix 1. The potential for eco-tourism is huge and the trust has various projects to try and raise awareness, the primary focus being that the whale shark is more valuable to us alive than dead.
“The main threat whale sharks face in our waters is getting entangled in the traditional nets used be fishermen. In many ways we are lucky that this is about the sum of our problems. Our fishermen are keen to work with us and there are very simple, easy ways to introduce better fishing techniques. In other parts of the world, particularly in the Far East (Japan in particular) things are much bleaker and the whale shark is specifically targeted for its fins, liver and meat. They are seen as a delicacy. Some of you might know that the whaling season in Japan started a few days ago. Over 1000 whales will be killed over the next few months, something completely unbelievable to me.
“The divers among you or those who have seen a whale shark already will know what I am talking about when I say that these magnificent creatures are an awesome sight. Their presence is an indicator of a healthy marine ecosystem so the very fact that they are here is a good thing. It is curious and at the same time wondrous that the biggest fish in the ocean feeds on the very smallest.
“It is unknown at present why there has been such a dramatic increase in whale sharks along our coastline – it could be because of the mantis shrimp invasion after El Nino or it could be linked to congested shipping lanes. So much is unknown when it comes to these gentle giants. We don’t know where they go to breed or how they take care of their young. Their migration patterns remain a mystery. We are currently working on initiating an aerial survey project together with the KWS. This will be the first major step of many in trying to learn more about them.
“What we do presently at the trust is run awareness campaigns, do presentations in schools and hotels, workshops with fishermen to teach them more environmentally friendly fishing techniques, run tagging expeditions with international researchers, volunteer programmes and local monitoring. This year marked the first ever satellite tagging whale shark expedition off the East African coast – we tagged 3 sharks with satellite tags and in doing so made history! Each time the scientists come here they get more and more excited. This year we were fortunate enough to have funds donated for a spotter plane – this made all the difference and was really key in making the expedition such a success. We already have more than 2 groups of researchers and journalists with satellite tags lined up for next season.
“By coming here tonight and supporting this innovative project, you will help uncover the mystery surrounding the whale shark. We want to completely ban the killing of whale sharks in our waters so that we can learn more about this fish. You will help put Kenya on the map as a whale shark haven. For that on behalf of the trust, I thank you all very much especially Katya and our kind hosts.
“Let me end with a story – there is a local legend that when God created the whale shark he was so pleased with his handiwork he gave his angels handfuls of gold and silver coins to throw down from heaven into the sea. The coins landed on the whale shark’s back. So the story goes that the whale shark swims near the surface, catching the sun on its beautiful markings as a way of saying thank you to its maker.
Thank you so much for coming here tonight to hear beautiful music played for whale sharks.”
Katya is coming back in January to play for the general public at the National Theatre on January 12 and 13. Put it in your diary now!!