Thursday, November 23, 2006

Whale Sharks around…still


Everybody knows that Utila is famous for Whale Sharks and those that have been around for a while will tell you that they are mainly seen February – April, and September with a few sticking around into October. This year has been a little different. These elusive giants of the ocean were nowhere to be seen in September and we were starting to get a little nervous as to where they were.

October rolled around and suddenly there were Whale Sharks everywhere! Every time we went out looking for them we found them and there were boils forming all over the place. That really got my researcher’s excitement piqued so we took full advantage of it. One particular afternoon stands out. We repeatedly came across a seven meter Whale Shark with a shiny yellow tag from Mexico. The shark was not shy at all and when I was hovering in the water by myself (collecting feeding data) the shark approached me and appeared to be ‘checking me out’.

It turns out that the shark was tagged in North Cabo Catoche, Mexico, in August this year and had evidently just made the migration down to Utila after the Mexican plankton season. The other interesting thing about this shark was that his right pectoral fin appeared to have been bitten off: instead of a 60-70cm long fin, his fin was only about 25cm long! And the scar was in the shape of a great big bite. It seems that somewhere on his long journeys he must have run in to some pretty hungry mouths.

On the same day, we also had the good fortune of seeing a Whale Shark tagged right here in Utila in February 2005. By the end of the trip, we had collected data on four different Whale Sharks and had more than a dozen swims with them.

Early November I left the island for a couple of weeks to attend an international biologists’ congress and I thought that by the time I returned, most of the Whale Sharks would already have left. However, much to our surprise, there were still lots of sharks about. This provided the perfect platform for extending and developing our research initiatives.

In mid-November, a group of seven experienced biologists from Florida joined us to learn more about Whale Sharks and to help brainstorm ideas for research methodology and approaches. Consequently, we were able to improve on our research design and have a whole pile of fun whilst doing it!

Something that concerns everyone on our research team is that a large number of the Whale Sharks we see in the waters around Utila have propeller damage and one of the sharks even had a completely missing dorsal fin. It is critically important to our sharks that boats travel slowly when near tuna boils. If they don’t, we will be threatening one of Utila’s greatest resources.
I leave you with a photo taken from San Marcos de Atitlan, in the volcanic highlands of Guatemala. A world of meditation, silence and beauty.

1 comment:

iselesele said...

Namaste Boy...

Sounds amazing! Whale sharks are amazing creatures!

What else is going on in your life at the moment? get out of the water for 5 mins to write me a long email!

Love, light and life...

Char*