First whale shark satellite-tagged in India

Virendra Pandit Sutrapada (Gujarat) | Updated on March 18, 2011 Published on March 18, 2011

Whale sharks are vulnerable species as per the International Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Photo: By special arrangement   -  THE HINDU

Whale sharks are vulnerable species as per the International Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Photo: By special arrangement   -  THE HINDU

A rescued whale-shark was satellite-tagged for the first time in India, earlier this week, as part of research to understand behaviour, ecological preferences and migration of this species.

The first set of data received indicated that the tagged individual, a 6.5-metre long male, rescued off the Gujarat coast, had reached the coast of Maharashtra.

The satellite tag was installed by a team of researchers under the Whale Shark Conservation Project, a joint venture of the Gujarat Forest Department and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), supported by Tata Chemicals Ltd (TCL) as part of the latter's CSR activity.

“This whale shark was caught in a fishing net offshore Sutrapada. As with other such individuals in the past, the local fishermen along with the Project team, freed the whale shark. There were several rescues last week, but this case was favourable for tagging as the tail was suitably exposed and the tag could be deployed efficiently and swiftly,” said Anita Karn, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Junagadh.

Satellite tagging is the latest development in the Whale Shark Conservation Project that had earlier initiated photo-identification, genetic analysis and visual tagging of whale sharks in India. Since 2008, the team has rescued more than 270 whale sharks that got caught in the fishermen's nets in the Arabian Sea off the Gujarat coast. Now tosee the first tag in place and receive data from it is an achievement, said Alka Talwar, Head, Communities Development, TCL.

The satellite tag or spot tag was attached to the caudal fin. It is the marine equivalent of a satellite collar with the data collected being transmitted to the satellite every time it surfaces, said Manoj Matwal, Assistant Field Officer, WTI.

The tag is expected to last for about six months and provide data related to the movement of the fish, its preference in water temperature, diurnal and nocturnal activities as well as swimming patterns between different layers of water.”

The first signal was received on Wednesday, 68 hours after the tagging. The signal was received 250 km off the coast of Mumbai, revealing that the fish has travelled southwards along the western coast.

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world and was once brutally killed across the shores of Gujarat for its liver oil used to water-proof boats.

Made aware of the plight of the fish through the Whale Shark Campaign, the local fishermen began voluntary release of whale sharks accidentally caught in their nets. The fish was listed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 in 2001, according it with the highest level of protection in the country.

Since its inception in 2008, the Whale Shark Conservation Project has been working with the support of the fishing communities, involving them in the conservation.

Published on March 18, 2011
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