Whale Shark ResearchWestern Australia
Whale Shark Research
An Ocean Giant In Need
Reaching up to 65 feet (20 metres) in length and weighing over 22 U.S. tons (20 tonnes), the whale shark is the world's largest fish. Having originated about 60 million years ago, these gentle giants have roamed the sea for eons, but today, their numbers are on the decline, as is the overall health of our oceans.
Mighty Mouth Feeders
Contrary to their remarkable size, whale sharks travel great distances to feed on tiny animals and plants such as plankton and other small sea creatures. They gather in food-abundant areas, and we know that where there are plentiful whale sharks and their food, the ecosystem is thriving.
Size does not Matter
Whale sharks, even with their extraordinary size, are no match for human-related activities. Habitat loss and degradation in the form of overfishing of reef fish, coastal development, land-based pollution and boat traffic pose the most significant threats to their survival. Additionally, the demand for their meat, fins and oil on international markets continues to see individuals ruthlessly taken from the wild.
A Giant Mystery
Despite being the largest fish in the sea, little is known about the whale shark’s biology and distribution. With our support, ECOCEAN in Western Australia is conducting scientific research into whale shark populations, their migratory and breeding behaviours as well as the impact of tourism and other industries on their future. Researchers aren’t exactly sure what will happen if we were to lose this unique species from our oceans, but what is certain is that the loss would have gigantic ramifications for the entire natural world.
Joining the Dots
With every whale shark having a unique pattern of spots and stripes on their skin, researchers can identify different whale sharks with the right photograph. By collecting and sorting images from scientists and the general public – citizen scientists – ECOCEAN has created the largest monitoring program of the species in the world. Pattern recognition and photo management software allow researchers to monitor population numbers, track their movements and better inform policy aimed at ensuring the long-term conservation of the whale shark.