Mysterious Female Whale Sharks Elude Marine Biologists

whale-sharkSomething as big as a whale shark should be easy to track, but Dubai-based marine biologists learn they are actually quite elusive.

It’s so tempting to attribute anthropogenic qualities to fauna. Take the whale shark Rhincodon typus, sometimes referred to as gentle giants, the largest fish to plow through tropical seas with its wide mouth open. The heaviest on record weighed in at 36 tonnes – as much as a ring of six Barnum and Bailey circus elephants. And yet they are among the least known creatures.

They’re nomadic, but no one knows their favorite haunts, they’re huge, but a sighting can be as furtive as a wanton look, and the ladies are especially sneaky. To learn more about these extraordinary seafaring creatures, Sharkwatch Arabia plans to tag 25 whale sharks over the next five years, starting with two tags donated by Emirati organizations.

Though PhD candidate David Robinson, a marine biologist based in Dubai, did not manage to find or tag any whales during its search last week, the Heriot-Watt University student’s efforts are not in vain.

Using NASA technology to analyze images of whale shark sightings uploaded to sharkwatcharabia.com, Mr. Robinson is able to identify individual whale sharks according to the white spots on the side of their bodies. In the past four months, they have managed to document 23 individual whale sharks, according to The National.

This is an extraordinary achievement since they are notoriously elusive.

“In all the sites what we know is that the whale sharks pass through but they don’t come back. So where are they going? Nobody knows,” Mr. Robinson told the paper.

Most of the sightings that do occur involve males, while the females seem to stay mostly out of view. Where they give birth remains a mystery to science, though some evidence suggests that male whale sharks have stashed a harem or two of females off the coast of Gujarat, India.

Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort in Fujairah and the Emirates Diving Association both sponsored a tag  to further Mr. Robinson’s dissertation research. Each one costs Dh15,000 – just over $4,000 a pop.

Sharkwatch Arabia is a joint effort between Shark Quest Arabia and the Emirates Diving Association to learn more about these filter feeders, a popular draw in the Gulf between May and September.

:: The National

More lovable marine creatures in the Middle East:

Rare Sea Turtles and Other Wildlife Living Happily on Persian Gulf

Is Willie the Grey Whale Lost or Looking for Club Med? (VIDEO

image via Marcel_Ekkel

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