Today was all about the science of the Whale Sharks. We accompanied Dr. Rachel Graham and her husband/scientific partner Dan Castellanos back to the Agua Azul (“blue water”) 8-10 nautical miles off the Yucatan Peninsula. Dr. Graham’s fascinating research is sponsored by Wildlife Conservation Society and its Ocean Giants program. She’s been working with Whale Sharks since 1998, and for the past nine years has been tagging the giants with cigar-sized, acoustic transmitters. These send a signal which is then received by listening stations located throughout the Western Caribbean Sea. As the sharks pass the receivers, their location is relayed via satellite to the researchers, giving them a near-real-time data on the sharks’ locations. Dr. Graham and her team then plot each shark’s track on Google Earth using a tool called STAT, which was developed by Michael Coyne at www.seaturtle.org .
This information is of particular importance to researchers because the sharks spend much of their time in the open sea and are therefore vulnerable to being hit by large ships (called “ship strikes”) and propeller wounds by small boats. Even here, in the Agua Azul, they are not protected. There are numerous marine protected areas in which the Whale Sharks are under the protection of CONANP, Mexico’s Natural Commission of Protected Natural Areas, however, this incredible location is not yet protected, in spite of the fact that it’s in an active shipping lane. A key priority for many in Mexico’s growing conservation community is to extend the Whale Shark Biosphere Reserve to include this important place for the Whale Sharks.
We are completely in favor of this goal and will be assisting in every way we can.
Photos (c) 2009 Kip Evans
All Photos – (c) Kip Evans, Deep Search