Holiday makers help protect largest fish in the sea

May 1st, 2009 - 2:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, May 1 (IANS) The world’s largest and rarest fish, the whale shark, may be increasing in number in one of its vital habitats, a new study by scientists and the general public has revealed.
The remarkable success of the online survey of whale sharks was carried out by Earthwatch volunteers, tourists, divers and researchers at Ningaloo, Western Australia.

It has prompted scientists to issue a worldwide call to holiday makers and divers to join a global effort to monitor and protect the largest fish in the sea. Whale sharks are thought to be at risk.

“Besides showing that whale sharks can increase where they are well-protected, we have also demonstrated the power of citizen-science, that ordinary people around the world can make a real contribution to serious research and conservation,” said Brad Norman, project coordinator and founder of ECOCEAN whale shark project.

ECOCEAN, a not-for-profit group, has pioneered this new programme, aimed at engaging members of the public to help monitor and ultimately protect wildlife, both in the sea and on land through the development of similar programmes for other endangered species, said an Earthwatch release.

“Thanks to increasing levels of data collection,” said Norman, “we’re finally able to estimate how many whale sharks appear annually, how long they typically remain at Ningaloo Marine Park (NMP), their patterns of arrival and departure, and shifts in their population structure.”

The team’s new findings have been published in Endangered Species Research (ESR).

Jason Holmberg, lead author of ESR study, states that they have been able to create statistical models demonstrating a modestly increasing annual population of around 150 sharks.

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