Whale Shark Research Group to visit Belize - Contributed by Todd L. Vickstrom

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 10, No. 29            July 20, 2000

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Whale Shark Research Group, in cooperation with the Belize Fisheries Department, will be in Belize from July 22nd through to August 28th to study whale sharks in the southern waters of Belize. Thirty-two scientists and researchers will represent the group from the United States, England and Australia.

This research group is a non-profit organization with offices in Connecticut, USA and now Placencia, Belize. The organization is an educational institution that works with fishery departments around the world in providing statistics on whale shark habitation. The information is also available to the public through newsletters and internet access.

The studies in the waters of Belize will determine actual numbers, feeding habits and determine if the whale sharks are seasonal or are inhabitants of the waters year-long. Outside research has observed them at particular times of the year but, Whale Shark Research Group's three year-long observation of the Belize's barrier reef has proven that there have been sightings year-long. They are inclined to believe they inhabit the reef continually year- long but are feeding on seasonal plankton at various water depths, thus, observation to the recreational diver is limited.

Whale Shark Research Group will bring in specially-designed plankton nets along with long-range depth finders to monitor the coastal waters. The benefits to Belize could be dual purpose; one, that the tourism industry can focus on longer periods of tourism that is driven by recreational divers; and two, expanding scientific support and finances to establish an ongoing research program that could be utilized by the Fisheries Department and the University of Belize's Marine Biology Department.

Local support and sponsorship has come through Coca Cola, Pepsi, Cayo Tropical Drinks, Robert's Grove and Soulshine Resort. International support has come through Mystic Sea Aquarium of the Unites States; Hubbs Research of Sea World, San Diego, United States; New Jersey Aquarium of the United States; the Philippine Fisheries Department and the Okinawa Aquarium of Japan. The scientists, as a group, will organize a program that will be implemented for a year-long research program and will be filmed by a European Film agency to be aired in the United Kingdom and the United States on public television. Further information can be found at the website www.whaleshark.org.



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