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Celebrating the Whale Sharks

Celebrating the Whale Sharks

Ever heard of whale sharks begging for food and playing like adorable puppies? Here is a small anecdote from Cenderawasih Bay in Papua, Indonesia involving playful whale shark and human interaction.

Can a 15-meter whale shark ask for food from a human? Is it even possible that like a little puppy dog they would implore upon a diver they need something to eat?

 

Celebrating the Whale Sharks

Local Papuan dive guide feeding a Whale Shark

Polka dots adorned and longer than a single-decker BEST bus, I was sandwiched between two whale sharks trying to frame an image of a third one. Gently nudged from behind and pushed a couple of feet in the water, I was surprised to find that this gentle bullying, was by a fourth whale shark!  Completely baffled, I moved away finning hard.  To my chagrin, the giant kept following me.  So, I finally used my camera to gently push away the shark. To my relief, it moved on, only to stand vertically in the water in front of the local dive guide. Next, it was gently swaying its head in front of the Papuan adjuring and imploring “can you please feed me?” or this is what I believe was happening. The Papuan promptly ducked into the nets holding baitfish and served lunch. This went on for quite a while and I was lucky to have taken a video with a few images of this unique behavior. YES, this happens on a regular basis and the same scene is most probably unraveling right now in Cenderawasih Bay, Papua, Indonesia.

 

Celebrating the Whale Sharks

 

This unique destination, where whale sharks are found 24/7, 365 days, should be on everyone’s bucket list. The relationship developed by the local Papuan fishermen with whale sharks is not to be seen elsewhere in the world. Here the whale sharks are in a safe haven, protected, fed, and revered by the locals. They gather in big numbers and many stay here through their juvenile and adult lives, research seems to be indicating.

 

Celebrating the Whale Sharks

Conservation.org has been doing a lot of research here. They also have an ongoing tagging program, which has revealed unique and otherwise not known behavioral traits. One can log in here (https://www.conservation.org/projects/whale-shark-tracker) for real-time tracking of whale sharks.

 

For more details on the scientific ongoing study and research on the above interactions and behavior please check here (https://www.conservation.org/blog/newly-discovered-whale-shark-population-brings-tourism-potential-to-indonesian-communities)

 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/3C4VswtgvChbx2cY3kT8tJY/a-sanctuary-for-the-endangered-whale-shark-cenderawasih-bay

 

Did You Know?

How do whale sharks reproduce?

Normally there are two ways to reproduce:

Oviparous: Lay eggs. Whilst inside the egg case the embryo gets all the nutrients that it requires from the yolk of the egg.

Viviparous: Give birth to live young. There is a placental link between the developing embryo and the mother through which nutrients are transferred (similar to an umbilicus in humans)

Then there is Ovoviviparous which is the category that whale sharks fall under. They give birth to live young but have a different method of internal nourishment. An embryo’s initial development occurs within an egg, gaining nutrients from the yolk, but the embryo emerges from the egg whilst still inside the mother. Once out of the egg, it is nourished by secretions from special

 

  • Even though ongoing research  in Galapagos show that a lot of pregnant whale sharks have been observed, there is still no scientific evidence of where they give birth to young ones.

 

  • Only one pregnant whale shark has ever been found: In 1995, a dead whale shark was found off the coast of Taiwan with 300 embryos inside, all at different stages of development

 

  • Very rarely have newborn pups of whale sharks been found, except once in the Philippines in 2009 (size:38cms) and recently two off the coast in Peru.

 

 

If one were to raise a question, “what do we know about whale sharks? How do they mate? where are the young ones born? Where are they since birth (40-60cms) until they reach 3-4 meters?” We know nothing about these giants. Humans have prioritised other fields which are considered more important. But our very own gentle giants of the deep seas remain an elusive mystery due to human apathy. To protect these endangered (declared in 2016) and fast depleting species, more data is needed. I truly hope we get down to this really soon, or else pictures and films will be the only memories.

About the Author /

Digant Desai is a very well known marine photographer from India. Marine life and the under-water world have been a childhood fascination for him, and he has seized every possible opportunity to capture awe-inspiring sights of this world on camera and study marine life. Digant has won international and national awards and has been penning articles for various wildlife and other local and international magazines. He was also on the team as a primary photographer while exploring the Angria Banks on a project by NIO and has co-authored the book Field Guide to the Sea Slugs of India.

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