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Marine Life & Conservation

Announcing the Bird’s Head Seascape Whale Shark ID Database

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As part of our continuing efforts to make the Bird’s Head Seascape website as useful, interesting and interactive as possible, we are delighted to announce the launch of the BHS Whale Shark ID database! Created as a sister initiative to the BHS Manta ID database, this subroutine within birdsheadseascape.com is designed to allow visitors to browse the database and familiarize themselves with the known individual whale sharks of the Bird’s Head in Indonesia (including information on their size, sex, recognizeable scarring, and their known movements around the Bird’s Head), compare their own ID photos with the database, and help us learn more about BHS whale sharks by submitting photos and observational data directly to the database. This online database represents a fantastic opportunity for “citizen scientists” to contribute to our knowledge about the world’s largest fish – and we strongly encourage you all to get involved!

The whale shark Rhincodon typus is the world's largest fish (reaching up to 18m in length!) and is regularly encountered in both Cendrawasih and Triton Bays in the BHS.

The whale shark Rhincodon typus is the world’s largest fish (reaching up to 18m in length!) and is regularly encountered in both Cendrawasih and Triton Bays in the BHS.

The database is made possible by the fact that all whale sharks have a unique pattern of spots, blotches and streaks on their bodies, and we can use these patterns to identify and track individuals – much like a fingerprint is used to identify individual humans. While these spots and streaks cover the entire body of the whale shark, in order to standardize comparisons of photos, researchers worldwide have agreed to focus photo ID efforts on the left side of individual whale sharks, specifically on the area of the body just behind the gill slits and forward of the dorsal fin. Those wishing to perfect their whale shark photo ID skills should refer to the How it Works section of the database, which also explains in detail how to use the site to upload your photo IDs.

Those wishing to contribute their ID photos to the database should focus efforts on the left side of the animal in the region between the gills slits and the dorsal fin.

Those wishing to contribute their ID photos to the database should focus efforts on the left side of the animal in the region between the gills slits and the dorsal fin.

Whale shark-focused tourism in the Bird’s Head has been growing since 2009, with liveaboard and resort operators taking advantage of the fact that whale sharks in both Cendrawasih and Triton Bays routinely enjoy feasting on the small baitfish known locally as “ikan puri” – which means they can reliably be found each morning milling about the “bagan” lift net fishing vessels that target their favorite food. Bagan fishers will normally share a few buckets’ worth of their catch with the whale sharks, which ensures the sharks usually stick around the bagans for a few hours – allowing for prolonged tourism interactions with these behemoths.

Whale sharks in the BHS are frequently found aggregating around "bagans", lift net fishing vessels, which target the same small silverside baitfish (known locally as "ikan puri") that are one of the whale sharks preferred food sources.

Whale sharks in the BHS are frequently found aggregating around “bagans”, lift net fishing vessels, which target the same small silverside baitfish (known locally as “ikan puri”) that are one of the whale sharks preferred food sources.

Bird's Head whale sharks seem to enjoy interacting with snorkellers near the bagans...

Bird’s Head whale sharks seem to enjoy interacting with snorkellers near the bagans…

In order to better understand the whale sharks of the Bird’s Head, a number of research initiatives have been launched to study these sharks. Since 2009, the Cendrawasih Bay National Park Authority (BBTNTC), WWF-Indonesia and Dr. Brent Stewart of Hubbs Sea World Research Institute (HSWRI) have been compiling a photo ID database of Cendrawasih Bay whale sharks, as well as satellite tagging several individuals. More recently, Conservation International (CI) has been working with the BBTNTC and Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries to attach finmount satellite tags to Cendrawasih whale sharks, while also collaborating with Dr. Hawis Madduppa of the Bogor Agricultural Insitute (IPB) to examine genetic connectivity of whale sharks sampled in Cendrawasih and Triton Bays. CI has also been working with the Kaimana government and local dive operators including Triton Bay Divers to compile a photo ID database of Kaimana whale sharks, and has moreover done some limited satellite tagging in Triton Bay.

Fifteen of Cendrawasih's whale sharks now sport finmount satellite tags, allowing conservation scientists to track their movements and learn more about their diving behaviours.

Fifteen of Cendrawasih’s whale sharks now sport finmount satellite tags, allowing conservation scientists to track their movements and learn more about their diving behaviours.

Of all these initiatives, the photo ID database is truly the foundation of all research on Bird’s Head whale sharks. By compiling and continuously updating this photo ID database, we can get an estimate of total population size, better understand seasonal patterns of movement, and determine if there is any “connectivity” between the known populations in Cendrawasih and Triton Bays. And best of all – you can be part of this important research!

A screenshot from the database showing ID photos of 8 of Kaimana's 14 known whale sharks (Cendrawasih now has well over 100 documented individuals). Submit your photos and grow the database!

A screenshot from the database showing ID photos of 8 of Kaimana’s 14 known whale sharks (Cendrawasih now has well over 100 documented individuals). Submit your photos and grow the database!

If you’re keen to help, please explore the database and all its features to learn how to take the best possible whale shark identification photos, and submit as many photo IDs as possible! You’ll note we are now launching the Bird’s Head Seascape Whale Shark ID database with the known individuals from the Kaimana/Triton Bay region, though we intend to soon add in individuals from Cendrawasih as well. We encourage viewers to submit photo ID’s from ANYWHERE in the Bird’s Head – as we are particularly keen to investigate if there is movement of individuals around the Bird’s Head, and one of the best ways to do this is to compare photos of individuals taken in different areas. To date, the vast majority of whale shark sightings in the Bird’s Head are from Cendrawasih and Triton Bays, but they are also rarely reported from Raja Ampat, and we also have reports from the northern Bird’s Head (off the leatherback turtle nesting beaches of Abun) and off the FakFak coast. Send in your images and help us “connect the dots” on whale shark movement and behaviour in the Bird’s Head!

For more information about Bird’s head Seascape’s various projects visit www.birdsheadseascape.com.

Dr. Mark Erdmann's work largely focuses on the management of marine protected areas, as well as research on reef fish and mantis shrimp biodiversity, satellite tracking of endangered sharks and rays, and genetic connectivity in MPA networks. Mark is the Vice President of CI’s Asia-Pacific marine programs, tasked with providing strategic guidance and technical and fundraising support to focal marine programs in CI's Asia Pacific Field Division, including especially the Bird's Head Seascape and Pacific Oceanscape initiatives, as well as marine programs in China, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Samoa and the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI). Mark is a coral reef ecologist (Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley) who has recently moved to New Zealand, and previously lived and worked in Indonesia for 23 years. During his time there he launched and directed the Bird’s Head Seascape initiative for over a decade, developing it into one of CI's flagship marine programs globally. Mark is an avid diver and has logged over 10,000 scuba dives while surveying marine biodiversity throughout the region, discovering and describing over 150 new species of reef fish and mantis shrimp in the process. He has published over 140 scientific articles and four books, including most recently the three-volume set "Reef Fishes of the East Indies" with colleague Dr. Gerald Allen, and has been a scientific advisor to numerous natural history documentary films for the BBC, National Geographic and NHK. Erdmann was awarded a Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation in 2004 for his work in marine conservation education and training for Indonesian schoolchildren, members of the press, and the law enforcement community. Though his work is now largely focused on the management of marine protected areas, his continuing research interests include reef fish and mantis shrimp biodiversity, satellite and acoustic telemetry of endangered elasmobranch species, and genetic connectivity in MPA networks. In recent years Mark has devoted significant time to supporting the Indonesian government in its efforts to improve conservation and management of its sharks and rays, including the designation of the world’s largest manta ray sanctuary in 2014. Mark maintains a research associate position with the California Academy of Sciences, supervises several Master's and PhD students at the University of Auckland, and is active on the boards of a number of NGOs working in the Coral Triangle, including Yayasan Kalabia, Reef Check Indonesia, and Manta Trust. Mark and his wife Arnaz and three children (Mica, Brahm and Cruz) live in Auckland, where he maintains a deep personal commitment to do whatever is necessary to ensure his children will be able to enjoy the same high-quality underwater experiences that continue to provide the inspiration for his dedication to the marine environment.

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Dive Training Blogs

Jeff chats to… Matt Slater of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-large, chats to Matt Slater, Marine Awareness Officer with the Cornwall Wildlife Trust about their Diving and Snorkeling programmes.

Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.


For more information, visit www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Get ready for a year of incredible underwater encounters in 2021

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Giants from the world of underwater photography have joined forces with Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation to create a unique and stunning 2021 calendar to raise funds for its campaigns to make Britain’s retailers shark free.

The line-up of award-winning contributors includes Alex Mustard, Amanda Cotton, Christian Vizl, David Doubilet, Doug Perrine, Ellen Cuylaerts, George Probst, Greg Lecouer, Jason Isley, Laura Storm, Shawn Heinrichs and Tanya Houppermans.

Each photographer has handpicked and donated a breathtaking image along with commentary that features month-by-month in the top class publication.

Campaign director at Bite-Back, Graham Buckingham, said: “This edition is packed with spectacular images to celebrate the marine environment in all its glory. Significantly every purchase of this calendar will directly fund our campaigns to end the trade and consumption of shark products in the UK.”

Alone, Bite-Back has made significant progress in limiting the sale of shark fin soup, shark meat and items containing shark, such as supplements, nationwide.

Graham added: “For the equivalent of £1 a month, we hope scuba divers and ocean lovers will enjoy admiring this rare and magnificent collection of images all year long.  And, of course, it makes a fabulous Christmas present too.”

The high quality A4 calendar is printed on recycled paper using vegetable-based inks by a climate neutral printer. It can be purchased at www.bite-back.com/shop for £12 (including free UK delivery) and shipped worldwide. Don’t miss out!

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Sharks Bay Umbi Diving Village is a Bedouin-owned resort with stunning views and a lovely private beach. It is ideal for divers as everything is onsite including the resort's jetty, dive centre and house reef. The warm hospitality makes for a diving holiday like no other. There is an excellent seafood restaurent and beach bar onsite, and with the enormous diversity of the Sharm El Sheikh dive sites and the surrounding areas of the South Sinai, there really is something for every level of diver to enjoy.

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