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#492882 - 06/29/14 11:26 AM Re: The Reclusive Whale Shark, Gladden Split [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 55,631
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Belize April 2014

Compilation of footage from diving in Belize April 2014. Sites were Glovers Reef, Gladden Spit, and Lighthouse Reef. Filmed with a 5dmkiii in a Nauticam housing - Canon 16-35mm wide angle lens. All footage filmed in natural light. Diving services provided by Hamanasi Resort.


#503319 - 04/13/15 02:29 PM Re: The Reclusive Whale Shark, Gladden Split [Re: Marty]  
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Whale Shark with a Dolphin escort. Placencia, Belize 2015

Snorkeling with Splash Dive shop Placencia Belize April 6th 2015. We were lucky enough to see the first official Whale Shark of the season...escorted by Dolphins.


#517166 - 08/29/16 05:20 AM Re: The Reclusive Whale Shark, Gladden Split [Re: Marty]  
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SECRETS OF WHALE SHARKS REVEALED

The world's biggest fish travels far and wide.

The world's biggest fish are hungry migrators on a mission, according to a tracking study that mapped whale sharks' long journeys around the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean to a favourite feeding hot spot off the Yucatan Peninsula.

And one whale shark's incredible 7,200-kilometre swim could even help solve the long-standing mystery of where whale sharks give birth—an event no scientist has ever seen.

The largest-ever study of whale shark migrations, nine years in the making, shows that the hundreds of school bus-sized animals that feed in a plankton-saturated stretch off the Mexican coast come from far and wide.

The gentle giants—which can reach up to 12 metres or longer in length, and weigh an average of 5 tons—use mouth filters to feed on the tiny plankton and small fish or eggs.


A free-diving photographer encounters the world's largest fish, a giant whale shark, off of the coast of Mexico [Image: Mauricio handler, National Geographic Stock]

Whale sharks are known to gather at a dozen major feeding locations around the world, from Western Australia and Indonesia to Belize. But between May and September, the waters of Mexico's Quintana Roo state, on the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula, draw far more animals than other spots and attract an estimated 800 or more in a given season.

"From this one feeding area, these animals spread out over vast parts of the region—throughout the Gulf of Mexico, down into the Caribbean Sea, through the Straits of Florida up into the open Atlantic Ocean," said study co-author Robert Hueter, director of the Centre for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory.

"We found animals coming back for as many as six years at a time. Clearly they are returning to this site to fuel up on the rich food that's there to carry them through much of the rest of the year."

ANALYSING THE DATA The reliable numbers and accessibility of whale sharks at the site prompted Hueter in 2003 to begin accumulating the nine years of tagging and satellite tracking data that formed the backbone of the recent study by the Mote Marine Lab and Mexico's National Commission of Natural Protected Areas.

The amount of time invested, and data collected, by the study's authors is nothing short of phenomenal, said whale shark researcher Mike Maslanka, the Head of Department of Nutrition Science at Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

"The summer work we do [at feeding aggregations] is just a tiny snapshot in the life of a whale shark," he said. "These tagging efforts allow us to discover more about what happens when they aren't gathering to feed in the summer. Without the tagging we wouldn't even have a glimpse into that part of their lives. That's the really cool part of this study."

Maslanka added, "These things are so big, to think that they 'disappear' is pretty amazing. It's the largest fish in the ocean and we don't know where it goes for six months of the year."

(The whale shark research was partially funded by a grant from the National Geographic Society.)

BIRTHING MYSTERY SOLVED?

Among more than 800 individuals studied, one animal stood out.

A mature and presumably pregnant female called Rio Lady was tagged and then tracked along an odyssey of some 7,800 kilometres, which ended when her tag came off after five months of observation.

"She just kept going," Hueter said. "She swam out between Brazil and Africa until she passed the Equator, and that's where her tag came off."

But her journey, and other whale shark sightings in the remote region, could help answer a question that has plagued whale shark researchers for years: Where are all the females? Quintana Roo is more than 70 percent male, and other global aggregations show the same gender imbalance.

"You can't have a stable population with that many males. You don't see that in nature," Hueter said.

"The females have to be somewhere, and we hypothesize that mature, pregnant females undergo long migrations to the middle of the ocean, near seamounts or remote islands ... and that's where they give birth," Hueter explained. "In coastal zones where the feeding aggregations are, their young-which are less than two feet long at birth—might be subject to higher predation."

He added, "We feel good about the hypothesis, but it's out there to be tested. So now we'll have to see if it's proven right in the years to come."

Few very young whale sharks have been seen in nature. And discovering where the animals give birth, Maslanka said, is "the holy grail of whale shark biology."

But the story isn't as simple as finding out what area or areas they use to pup. The find would lead to greater understanding of basic whale shark biology, much of which is still lacking because so much of the animals' lives are lived out of our sight.

"And from the perspective of ecosystem management, we'd want to make sure that area was protected over time so they could continue to pup in an unmolested state," he said.

PROTECTING THE GENTLE GIANTS

Using this study and others to determine where the animals travel, feed, and reproduce is key to protection of a species that is becoming increasingly beloved by ecotourists and others.

"It's the largest fish in the ocean, and it's a real representative of healthy marine ecosystems," Maslanka said. "It can be a real flagship species for protecting the oceans, especially in the band that stretches around the Equator."

But as Hueter's group makes clear, conservation of the far-roaming animals will take international cooperation because whales spotted in one area may depend, in other seasons, on resources located many hundreds of miles away.

And while mating remains a mystery, whale shark genetics suggest that animals swap genes among far-flung geographic locales, and that only two large metapopulations exist—one in the Atlantic and another in the Indo-Pacific.

Each population requires management on a broad scale. The species as a whole is currently listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and is still hunted for fins and oil in some Asian waters.

Hueter said he's encouraged that whale sharks can be protected by the process that's already begun, notably in his study area, with the Mexican government's designation of a Whale Shark Biosphere Reserve in the feeding aggregation grounds.

There's more work to be done, he cautioned, but the species definitely warrants the effort.

"This is the largest fish that has ever lived, and it's charismatic," Hueter said. "It poses no danger to people who love to see it and swim with it in the wild. It might be the largest animal on the planet that you can be close to in it's natural environment and not be in any danger whatsoever."

National Geographic


#517205 - 08/30/16 02:29 PM Re: The Reclusive Whale Shark, Gladden Split [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 55,631
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It's International Whale Shark Day! This day celebrates these remarkable gentle giants. Whale sharks can grow to 45 feet and weigh in at 24,000 pounds. Belize is blessed to have these seasonal visitors visit us! Photos by Tony Rath Photography and Tour Guide Harry Neal

Click photos for more pictures!



Whale Sharks and Diving

Whale shark encounters have become very popular over the last few years. These school bus size fish are the largest in the world. While not a whale, they are bigger than many species of whales. Among other locations Mexico, Australia and the Philippines are the leader in whale shark encounters.

Snorkeling & Freediving with Whale Sharks

Whale shark encounters are primarily done while snorkeling or Freediving. Many locations, such as the three mentioned, prohibit scuba diving with them. The encounters are generally shallow waters where the whale sharks come to feed on plankton and small fish. Whale Shark tourism is likely to be worth over US$42 million annually, and indicates that the industry is growing fast as a tourism niche. Some of the most popular whale shark destinations have an entire tourism industry built around the whale sharks. One of the benefits of this increased interest is that in many places those that used to hunt whale sharks are now earning more showing them off. They have become more valuable to them alive then dead.


One of these locations that has greatly benefited from this Eco-tourism with whale sharks is Donsol, Sorsogon in the Bicol region of Luzon, Philippines. In the late 1990s, the local fisherman knew little about the Butanding, the local name for whale sharks, that visited from November to June. The Philippine government made fishing for them illegal and stopped a massive export market to Taiwan and China. The Donsol River, which is rich in plankton and krill, flows into the shallow Donsol Bay. A favorite foods of whale sharks they come here for the nourishment and to birth their young. Around 1999, the news that the whale sharks were consistently visiting Donsol Bay brought visitors by the hundreds. The national and local governments as well as local business established a code of conduct for interacting with these gentle giants. International environmental groups and foreign governments provided technical and financial assistance.

The resulting program has been duplicated in other regions of the world. Scuba diving is prohibited but snorkeling is allowed. Each individual wanting to experience a swim with the whale sharks must first attend a orientation session that includes a video. The rules are explained and an overview of what to expect is included. A Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) accompanies each boat to insure each boat and all of the guest follow the rules. In Donsol Bay the snorkelers are put into the water near a animal and the boat moves slowly away. If the swimmers remain still it is likely that the whale shark will approach. It not uncommon at this site for a snorkeler to see four or five animals in a single encounter.

Here is a summary of the Donsol Bay rules:

  • Do not touch or ride the whale shark.
  • Do not restrict the movement of the shark or impede its natural path.
  • The recommended distance from the whale shark is 3 meters from the tail.
  • Do not use flash photography.
  • Do not use scuba scooters, jet skis or any motorized underwater propulsion.
  • A maximum of 6 swimmers per shark.
  • Only one boat per whale shark.


8.5 meters long female Whale Shark photograph by Olivier ROUX

Scuba Diving With Whale Sharks

Outside of the areas where whale shark encounter tours happen, diver near by may still encounter them in a course of a dive. When this does happen divers should still follow the first five rules above to get the most out of their dive and so not to also injure the whale sharks.

There are a few destinations that scuba divers are likely to find these huge animals while on a dive that do not offer snorkeling opportunities. Galapagos Islands is one destination that comes to mind. It is frequently said that the bubbles from scuba divers cause the whale sharks to move away. The high density of marine life helps reduces the impact of a diver being in the area. With all of the movement in the area it is easy for the whale shark to overlook the exhaust of the divers regulators.

There is another location where diving with whale sharks is common and that is Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve of Belize. While whale shark encounter do happen at times in the Caribbean destinations, they are mostly migratory with few staying in any given area very long. Gladden Spit seems to be the destination for many of these migratory animals. Each year from April to June they stay in the area in large numbers. Three different species of snapper: Mutton snappers, Cubera snappers and Dog snappers aggravate to the Gladden Spit each year to spawn. They release their eggs and sperm into the waters around the period of the full moon. The whale sharks find these very tasty and are very active eating what they can.

At Gladden Spit the water is deeper than most of the destinations that offer snorkeling with whale sharks. Also the divers bubbles are not something that scares away the animals, in fact they help draw them nearer. The snapper spawn at night near the surface and retreat to deeper water during the day. The whale sharks follows their program staying a little deeper. Scuba divers swim down to 60 to 80 feet and level out to wait for any whale sharks. It is believed that the divers bubbles causes the whale shark to think that there is a spawning in progress and they will come to investigate.

The whale shark guidelines are similar to the list above with some variations. Divers are allowed to dive to 80 feet and the last dive must start before 4:30pm. These rules are designed so that divers do not interfere with the snapper spawning cycle. Violations of the rules can result in finds as high as $5,000 per infraction.

Whale Shark Conservation – Is It Too Little Too Late?

The increase awareness that these Eco-tourism activities have created has helped protected these gentle giants. However, is it too little too late?

The IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016 is to be held in Hawaii from 1 to 10 September. An updated IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, including assessments of many species will be presented during that conference. There will be three major changes to the list. Whale sharks and winghead sharks will be upgraded from “Vulnerable” to “Endangered” and Bornean orangutans will be upgraded to Critically Endangered, just one step from extinction in the wild.

The whale shark population is estimated to have decreased by over 50% in the last three generations (75 years). Whale shark population is mostly within the Indo-Pacific region with 75% of the world wide numbers found there. That overall area has seen a 63% reduction with some local areas seeing over a 90% reduction. The smaller population in the Atlantic, including the Caribbean Sea has seen a smaller reduction of around 30%. Still, researchers and long time divers in Belize have noted fewer individual whale sharks.

Many countries already have laws that protect whale sharks and some have laws that protect all endangered species. The red list is generally what most countries use. This sad declaration what the whale shark is now endangered will add protection in some countries. There are a few countries such as Oman and China that still allow fishing of whale sharks. Hopefully, the increased status will help convince these countries to protect whale sharks.


#525477 - 08/28/17 01:58 PM Re: The Reclusive Whale Shark, Gladden Split [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 55,631
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Whale Shark Dive Belize 'Virtual Dive Highlights'

Gladden Spit, Silk Cayes Marine Reserve Belize. SEA Belize (Southern Environmental Association) Sanctions Enforced~ $10,000 fine for touching a Whale Shark, Max Depth Restriction 80ft , 12 Guest Max Per Boat.

#525894 - 09/17/17 06:34 AM Re: The Reclusive Whale Shark, Gladden Split [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 55,631
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Video: The Magical Whale Shark Rendezvous at Gladden Spit


#525941 - 09/19/17 12:53 PM Re: The Reclusive Whale Shark, Gladden Split [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
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Video: Whale Shark Aggregation in Belize, 2009

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