Volunteering: Many small factors influencing the big picture
Species Conservation in the Indian Ocean: We would like to present certain facts that make clear why whale shark protection in the Maldives is so important. Learn more
Ever since 1995 the Maldivian government engaged in the protection of the whale sharks in the surrounding waters and has done a great job in protecting them as well as conserving their habitat so far. Some people might question the importance of a research project about whale sharks in the Maldives by pointing out that they would still be there without the work. And yes, this might seem plausible at first; nevertheless, it is not yet known where they are going when leaving Maldivian waters – what is known, though: they do leave for sure.
The big picture
Keeping this global objective for protection and a greater understanding of this enigmatic species in mind, our project partner on the Maldives as well as other interested and involved parties from around the world traveled far distances to gather and exchange knowledge at regular geek-outs like the 3rd Annual International Whale Shark Conference in Atlanta, USA.
Our project partner on the Maldives was able to present the following facts:
- Between April 2006 and December 2012 our partner spent a total of 340 days searching for whale sharks in the South Ari atoll and was able to recover information concerning the length as well as the sex of each shark they observed. Moreover, they were taking photographs that supported repeated identification from their spot patterns using pattern-recognition software.
- Our partner was able to identify 134 whale sharks from photographs that were taken during 999 sightings.
- 9 out of 10 of those sharks were confirmed as immature males (10 are female, 6 unknown).
- The total length of the observed sharks ranged from 3m to 10.5m and was on average 5.9m
- Of the observed sharks, about a quarter were observed to have major trauma injuries consistent with boat collisions
- It was observed that sightings correlated with the tidal cycles and lunar illumination levels
- In only 1 of 5 sightings feeding behaviour was observed
Concluding from their observations, our project partner developed the theory that the sharks in the South Air atoll are part of a bigger local population or alternatively an even smaller component of a regional population. This still leaves us with the question “why are they doing it?”
To close the circle and refer to the opening paragraph of this blog is can be said that without our partner’s research work, we would not know that those sharks in the Maldivian region are almost all males that are also mostly immature. Moreover, the collaborative research enables scientists to see the individuals in a global picture that helps us to understand the species in a better way. Without a global protection concept it will be very difficult and to be honest quite unpromising to only locally protect a whale shark population sustainably that consists mainly of immature male individuals.
Our project partner is eager to continue their work and to identify further components of the population as well as reasons for them to live in this habitat across the Maldives.