Public urged to report whale shark sightings

Any information would help research.
By Emmanuelle Landais, Senior Reporter /
23. August 2011

Dubai: Any sightings of whale sharks dead or alive in the wild should be reported to the main Dubai-based research body, Sharkwatch Arabia.

A washed-up whale shark found dead last week in Musandam (photo) was a loss for the ocean and a missed-opportunity for science.

No information was gathered from the large whale shark which could have offered researchers the chance to collect DNA samples or even investigate stomach contents as no one alerted them, said David Robinson, founder of Sharkwatch Arabia. “There is so much data we could have collected as a whale shark stranding is such a rare occurrence throughout the world,” said Robinson.

Robinson, a marine biologist and post-doctoral student at Heriot-Watt University set up Sharkwatch Arabia to help him collect data on whale sharks throughout the Arabian Gulf, possibly one of the biggest population in the world of which little is known.

Photographs of the dead animal were sent to Robinson before the weekend, possibly days after the whale shark had actually washed ashore.

“We could have taken a tissue sample for genetic analysis and comparison.”

So far Robinson has collected samples from whale sharks in the Gulf, but questions remain on whether whale sharks in the Musandam are the same population or if they differ genetically, or if they are moving to feed in Musandam.

“To date I have no evidence that sharks are actually using the Musandam as a feeding ground. Stomach content analysis combined with stable isotope profiling would have given us information about what the shark has been eating and where,” said Robinson.

Other data such as if it was male or female, or if it was a reproductively mature animal will never be known. Studying the body would have maybe enabled him to determine the cause of death. Further studies such as an analysis of vertebrae for aging purposes to determine at what size the animal is at a certain age is extremely valuable.

“Currently growth data is limited to captive animals,” said Robinson.

Any sightings by individuals, divers, or dive centres are asked to report them to Sharkwatch Arabia.

However despite a dive centre located close to the beach of the stranding, no report was made. “Individual divers do respond well and there are a certain few responsible dive centres that report sightings frequently and also ask individuals to send in sightings,” said Robinson. “Some dive centres respond frequently and some have never sent in a single sighting. It is shocking really to think of how much effort it takes to send in an e-mail, but the benefits from the data may one day go towards protection of the species.”

Source and Photo ( supplied ) :



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