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Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Compensation Instead of Confrontation

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Scubaverse’s Editor at Large, Jeff Goodman, talks to Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson about their recent controversial announcement offering the Faroe Islands £1,000,000 to stop killing whales.

What Jeff had to say: I first met and worked with Paul in 1988 while making a film for the BBC about the annual slaughter of Pilot Whales and Dolphins in the Faeroe Islands. I joined Paul and the crew of Sea Shepherd in Plymouth and sailed to the islands to try and stop, or at least publicise, the wholesale killing of these cetaceans.

In my sheer naivety I truly believed that if we could show the horrors of this hunt to the world then public opinion and pressure would be brought to bear to end the mass killing. How wrong I was. The resulting film angered a few people and distressed others, but in the end nothing changed. The killing went on and goes on to this day.

However, this does not mean that we should give up trying to end this senseless slaughter, for if we did then we may as well close our minds to all the horrors man inflicts on the world and live our lives in comfortable psychological isolation.

Recently I saw this headline:

Sea Shepherd Offers the Faroe Islands One Million Euros to Stop Killing Whales’.

At first I was shocked and then it became clear to me just how committed Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd are to saving our planet’s marine life. It was all at once wonderful and tragic. One of those windows on humanity, paying a rich country not to kill whales in an outdated and unnecessary blood bath.

Combined with all the other immense environmental pressures cetaceans are facing, what is one million Euros compared to the pain, suffering and possible extinction put upon these priceless animals? It seems the supporting membership of Sea Shepherd and the wider public would be willing to donate this amount to give pilot whales and dolphins safe passage past the wealthy Faroe Islands.

I asked Paul to tell me more.

Sea Shepherd

What Paul Watson had to say: After years of confrontations with people who kill seals, dolphins, whales and other wildlife species I have seen that in many cases, the revenues received from donations to oppose exploitation often exceed the revenues realized by those doing the exploitation.

In Mexico for example, Sea Shepherd recently hired fishermen to convert the lead weights we confiscate from the nets of poachers into dive weights. Offering employment is one way to compensate for the loss of fishing revenues due to regulations protecting the endangered Vaquita and Totoaba.

In the Faroe Islands the Grindadrap or slaughter of pilot whales and dolphins is a tradition but the argument from the islanders is that it is free meat and they need the meat despite the high toxicity of that flesh and blubber in the form of methyl-mercury, PCB.s and other heavy metals. We have long argued that there is no economic need to kill whales considering that the Faroe Islands have one of the highest per capita incomes in Europe.

However, some in the Faroes insist it is an economic necessity. If it is money they need, surely the conservation and the animal rights movement can supply the funds. There are far more people supporting the opposition to the killing of whales than people wanting to kill whales. The supporting membership of Sea Shepherd is three to four times the number of the entire population of the Faroe Islands. We could easily raise the required funds for compensation.

For this reason, Sea Shepherd has made an offer to the Faroes of one million Euros payable in yearly instalments of one hundred thousand pounds for each year that no pilot whales or dolphins are killed. The offer comes with a suggestion that the Faroese use the money to build a whale watching industry and/or to promote tourism to the Faroe Islands.

We have not had a reply to our offer but the offer stands should the Faroese decide that there is a greater economic benefit to protecting whales than from destroying them.

For more information about Sea Shepherd visit their website by clicking here.

 

 

Jeff Goodman is the Editor-at-Large for Scubaverse.com with responsibility for conservation and underwater videography. Jeff is an award-winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker who lives in Cornwall, UK. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Creature Feature: Whale Shark

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In this series, the Shark Trust will be sharing amazing facts about different species of sharks and what you can do to help protect them.

On 30th August it’s International Whale Shark Day! So to celebrate this month’s creature feature is all about the largest fish in the ocean… the Whale Shark!

The biggest shark in the ocean. The biggest fish in the ocean. The Whale Shark lives up to its name. Reaching a whopping 18m in length (potentially more). This is a legendary and beautiful shark.

They are unmistakable. Apart from their size, these filter-feeders have a beautiful patterning on their back. They have a checkerboard of white or yellowish spots on a grey, blue or brown back. It is often compared to a starry sky. In fact. In Madagascar they are known as “marokintana” for “many stars”.

Each Whale Shark’s pattern is unique. Amazingly, software used to identify star clusters from images of space has been adapted to identify individual Whale Sharks!

These sharks are highly migratory. Including journeys of 13,000km (made one way only) over 37 months. Which falls short of the most migratory shark, the Blue Shark. Tagging has revealed that there are regular ‘aggregation sites’. Here, Whale Sharks come together in huge numbers. Several hundred Whale Sharks may come together. To feed at annual, seasonal or lunar fish and invertebrate spawning events. The huge numbers of plankton at these events are consumed by suction. Whale Sharks can hang vertically and feed by sucking and gulping in water which is filtered through gill rakers.

Despite everything we know about them. And tagging studies. We still don’t know where Whale Shark’s pupping or nursery grounds are! We do know they are viviparous, giving birth to live young. Giving birth to up to 300 young.

Although they are protected by international agreements such as CITES and CMS. Unfortunately, Whale Sharks are endangered. They’ve been overfished in many areas for meat. Currently, the tourism industry for this species is booming. If you’re lucky enough to be able to go and see Whale Sharks – then why take a look at our guide for ecotourism.

Finally, if you want to support this majestic creature why not adopt a Whale Shark?

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Rhincodon typus

FAMILY:  Rhincodontidae

MAXIMUM SIZE: 17m – 21m

DIET: Plankton

DISTRIBUTION: Circumglobal, all tropical and warm seas except the Mediterranean

HABITAT: Open ocean to close inshore off beaches

CONSERVATION STATUS:


Banner Image – © Paul Cowell | Shutterstock

In-text Images – © Frogfish Photography


For more amazing facts about sharks and what you can do to help the Shark Trust protect them visit the Shark Trust website by clicking here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Celebrating the biggest fish in the sea: International Whale Shark Day 2022

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On August 30, the world is showing the biggest shark that lives in our oceans some big, BIG love. Because believe it or not, the biggest fish in the sea needs all the love they can get! Sure they are a shark – but they are the closest thing to a vegetarian that exists in the shark world.  Filter feeders, they eat plankton. While their mouths are 4 feet wide, their throats are the size of a quarter. And before you begin to worry about their 3000+ teeth, you should probably know they are only the size of the head of a match.

It’s hard to believe given the fact they can grow up to 40 feet in length and weigh up to 20 tons, but they are very elusive and proficient in the art of underwater camouflage. In fact, Jacques Cousteau only saw three in his lifetime!

Photo: Simon J Pierce

They are found in all temperate and tropical oceans around the world except for the Mediterranean Sea, and can migrate thousands of miles between feeding areas. They spend most of their lives near the surface, but have been known to dive to depths of almost 2,000m.

These gentle giants are magical – with a unique dot pattern that is specific to each individual whale shark.  Their populations are so low that there is a genetic similarity among all whale sharks worldwide.  Whale sharks play an extremely important role keeping the oceans healthy while also creating sustainable income for local communities through tourism. However, like many other shark species, whale sharks are classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, with declining populations worldwide.  With massive migratory areas that make them difficult to protect, the fact they are often bycatch or targeted for their meat + fins, and as filter feeders that they often consume micro-plastics, whale sharks need all the help they can get.

Photo: Rodrigo Friscione

Here’s everything you need to know about these incredible fish – including how to meet them, how to protect them, and how to celebrate them every day!

Whale Shark Fun Facts:

  • Name: Rhincodon typus
  • Size: 18- 40 feet
  • Weight: up to 20 tons (equivalent to 3 African Elephants, a full school bus or 12,000+ bricks!)
  • Physical features: mouths are 5 feet wide with 3,000 teeth, eyes are as big as golf balls
  • Life Span: estimated 60-100 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Endangered

1) Love Tropical Waters Both Deep and Shallow

The preferred environments of whale sharks are tropical and temperate waters and all over the world, including both deep and shallow coastal waters and lagoons of coral atolls.

A marine biologist named Eric Hoffmayer recorded the deepest dive yet: in 2008, he monitored a shark in the Gulf of Mexico that descended 6,324 feet. Sharks lack a swim bladder that keeps other fish buoyant, so one idea is that whale sharks free-fall toward the seafloor to rest.

Whale sharks especially love the Philippines. In 2016, the 1000th whale shark was identified in Philippine waters, making the Philippines the third largest known aggregation of whale sharks in the world and the biggest in South East Asia.

2) Endurance Swimmers Who Are Global Travelers

Whale sharks are one of the most migratory species and can travel around 40 miles per day! They tend to prefer different geographic locations at various times of year based largely on water temperature, food supplies and breeding opportunities. Genetic studies show that whale sharks across the globe are closely related which suggests that mating is one of the reasons for such long travels.

It is believed that pregnant females will migrate long distances to be able to give birth near remote islands where baby sharks will be out of reach of common predators.

But they are also slow swimmers (for sharks) usually moving at no more than 3 mph. Their swimming pattern is different than most sharks in that instead of using just the caudal fin for primary propulsion, they use the full posterior two-thirds of their body length.

The record for whale shark migration was 12,000 miles by a whale shark named Anne in 2011. She was tracked making the mammoth migration from near Panama in the southeastern Pacific, to an area close to the Philippines in the Indo-Pacific. Other tracked whale sharks have traveled:

  • Over 8,000 miles from the Gulf of CA, Mexico to Tonga
  • 3,107 miles to the coast of Thailand

Photo: Julie Andersen

3) They Enjoy Alone Time

Whale sharks are usually solitary creatures but come together for months in large aggregations to feed in plankton-dense waters. After feeding, they drift off in random directions, completely disappearing during winter and spring.

4) They Practice Vegetarianism

Whale sharks can eat plankton up to 45 pounds of plankton each day (which is equivalent to  121 cheeseburgers per day). But they also eat shrimp, sardines, anchovies, mackerels, squid, tuna, and albacore. and fish eggs. According to The Nature Conservatory, whale sharks will wait as long as 14 hours for fish to spawn on reefs and then they will swoop in and eat the eggs.

But they also largely have a vegetarian diet, especially when other prey is scarce. Scientists discovered that whale sharks get more than half their nutrients from plants and algae.

5) Each Baby Whale Shark is a Miracle!

Whale sharks are ovoviviparous, meaning they produce eggs that hatch inside the mother’s uterus.  Litters can be up to 300 pups but not all pups are birthed at the same time. That is almost twice as many as any other shark species.

But only one pregnant whale shark has ever been studied and, interestingly, many of these embryos were at different stages of development. Scientists observed that some were still in their egg cases whilst others had emerged but were still in the uterus. This may signify that females are able to store a male’s sperm, selectively fertilizing their eggs over a prolonged period.

Juvenile whale sharks, as docile and vulnerable as their elders, often become prey for other sharks and orcas, so while a female may birth more than 300 pups at a time, survival rates are devastatingly low; females giving birth to multiple litters at different times could increase their survival rate which could be why they have their very own, built-in sperm banks.

Making the birth of a whale shark even more miraculous is the fact that each whale shark’s pattern is as unique as a human fingerprint!

Think You Know Whale Sharks? Click here for a fun way to test your whale shark IQ!

Header Photo: Whale shark in Oslob by Shawn Heinrichs

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