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Whale Shark Conservation

Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus)

IUCN Status: Vulnerable (at high risk of extinction in the wild)

Appendix II (may be threatened with extinction unless trade is closely controlled)

Tropical and warm temperate seas, oceans and coastal areas.

The whale shark is the world's largest fish and reaches lengths of up to 18m. It has a broad, flattened head and tiny teeth.  The shark sports an intricate and striking pattern of light spots and strips over a dark grey background.   It is a filter-feeder and preys primarily on zooplankton but may take other small organisms such as small fish and squid.   Whale sharks are most often encountered whilst feeding close the surface - usually individually but sometimes in large aggregations.   The species is highly migratory, and movements are believed to be timed with planktonic blooms and seasonally changing water temperatures.  Unlike other sharks that require forward movement the Whale Shark can suck water (and therefore its food!) into its mouth.

The whale shark population is in decline and one of the major threats faced by the species is its high value on the international market.   The sharks are targeted by Asian fisheries for their meat and their highly prized fins, particularly in Taiwan.   This species is extremely vulnerable to overexploitation particularly due to its life history - it is highly migratory, low in abundance and low recruitment into the population.

Unfortunately, little is know about migration patterns, ecology and behaviour of the whale shark, largely due to the difficulty of studying it.

Conservation efforts:
A number of organisations around the world are collaborating to build a global database to enable us to better understand the whale shark and to enable conservation and management planning for the species.

These organisations include: PADI Project AWARE, the Shark Trust and ECOCEAN.

Zanzibar Diving assists with whale shark research by providing these organisations with information about the whale sharks encountered during dive trips. This information includes any photos we or our guests take of whale sharks (particularly of the primary dorsal fin and the area around the gills).   Identification photos are a powerful field technique for the study of this magnificent species. The photos we provide enable researchers to identify and match photos to those within the global catalogue. This in turn can tell us about the life histories, including biology & ecology, and migratory patterns of the sharks.

Ultimately, all this information will be used to enable a better understanding of the species, including the most effective and appropriate conservation measures to ensure the future survival of the species.

To learn more about Whale Sharks visit the following websites:

Whale Shark   (Rhincodon typus)

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Whale Shark Conservation

Photo ID

International Database Project

Whale Shark
(Rhincodon typus)


Conservation Vision

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