As the year comes to an end, India took another small step towards learning more about the world’s biggest fish when a female whale shark was successfully satellite-tagged on Saturday in order to learn more about the movement and preferences of this gentle giant, known as “Vhali” or Gujarat’s Daughter, in the Saurashtra region.

The tagging, second-ever in the country, was done this morning by the Whale Shark Conservation Project team members with the help of the fishing community in Sutrapada, under a project supported by Tata Chemicals Ltd.

A joint initiative of the Gujarat Forest Department and International Fund for Animal Welfare – Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI), the project works to gather more information on the species to help develop effective conservation strategies.

Whale sharks, an endangered species, usually travel a distance of over 20,000 km from Australia to the Indian coast in Arabian Sea every year in winter. Alka Talwar, Head, Community Development, Tata Chemicals, said, tagging will aid in exploring new facts and data on whale shark’s habitat and provide information on their migratory pattern, breeding, and survival on the Gujarat coast. Aradhana Sahu, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Junagadh, said, “Gujarat has been leading the way in conservation of whale sharks in the country, with the fishing community coming forward to save the species over the past decade.”

B.C. Choudhury, Project Advisor, WTI, added that the project would be tagging more fish in the coming days, applying modified methodology to ensure minimal stress on the fish. The female whale shark tagged this morning was around 18 feet long, said WTI biologist Prem Jothi, who implanted the tag. It was caught in fishing net, and was released post-tagging.

Whale sharks were once brutally hunted in Gujarat for their liver oil used to water proof boats. In 2001, the whale shark became the first fish to be listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Following the successful Whale Shark Campaign launched by the Forest Department, IFAW-WTI and Tata Chemicals, in 2004, the fishing community of Gujarat began releasing whale sharks accidentally caught in their nets.

Till date, release of around 400 whale sharks has been recorded.

(This article was published on December 28, 2013)
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