Tagging Whale Sharks - be part of it

I want to tell you about a new non-invasive method of tagging whale sharks that everyone who has an underwater camera, digital or film it doesn't matter, can get involved in.

This tagging method cleverly uses the whale sharks natural skin patterning as a way to recognize the animal, rather than spearing the animal to attach a plastic tag. Each whale shark is born with a unique pattern of dots in the area behind its fifth gill, above its pectoral fin: its "fingerprint", which does not change over the shark's lifetime. When this area is photographed, by tourists or scientists alike, it can be submitted to a online Library which extracts the pattern of dots in the shark's fingerprint and tries to make a match with any of the sharks already in the Library.

When a match is made factors such as the shark's rate of appearance and movement patterns can be determined. The Library will be used to estimate population figures and survival rates and help establish credible data for lobbying for their protection. It has already been proved a successful long term tagging method with individual whale sharks visiting the Ningaloo reef being recognized 13 years apart. It is has also been adopted by research centers as far away as Utila in the Caribbean.

Whale sharks are still hunted in countries such as Indonesia and Taiwan at a level that is feared to be unsustainable. Whale shark populations have been decimated by fishing practices in the last 15 years, and it was only as recently as 2002 that they were voted onto CITES Appendix II, meaning that trade in whale sharks has to be closely monitored in fear that without protection they may become extinct. More information on the whale sharks is needed in order to lobby successfully for their protection.

The more instances of whale shark sightings the Library has in its database the more effective it will be, so the next time you're lucky enough to see a whale shark, log onto www.shepherdproject.org/submit.jsp with your sightings. You will receive an automatic email whenever someone submits a sighting of "your" whale shark to the Library and you will have the opportunity to contribute towards conservation monitoring, without harm to individual animals.
To help and learn more, click on the web at www.ecocean.org.

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