Whale sharks sticking around

Louise AllinghamPilbara News
Researchers attached electronic tags to whale sharks to track their movements.
Camera IconResearchers attached electronic tags to whale sharks to track their movements. Credit: Jess Leask

Researchers have found that whale sharks are present on the Ningaloo Reef all year around.

Two studies by ECOCEAN, Murdoch University and the University of Queensland have shown many whale sharks stay close to the reef’s edge outside of the tourist season of March to August.

Researchers tracked whale sharks’ movements, mostly juvenile males, using electronic satellite tags.

Whale sharks were shown to be present in the Ningaloo every month of the year with some moving long distances away before returning.

The findings provide valuable insight for their long-term conservation and management.

ECOCEAN researcher Brad Norman said the results showed Ningaloo Reef was a critical habitat for this endangered species all year round.

The study may also prompt whale shark tour operators to extend their operating season.

“Ultimately it would be up to the tourism industry and the management agency whether they extend the season throughout the year would depend on tourist demand for the experience,” Dr Norman said.

Before the studies, whale shark movements at the Ningaloo Reef outside tourist season were only known by occasional sighting from from citizen scientists recorded in the Wildbook for Whale Sharksphoto-identification library.

The papers have recently been published in Diversity and Distributions, DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12618, and the Journal of Fish Biology, DOI: 10.1111/jfb.13461.

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