Whale shark numbers decline
The importance of marine sanctuaries for the whale sharks’ survival has been highlighted as the threat assessment of the species — WA’s marine animal emblem — is bumped up to endangered.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s latest red list assessment has upgraded the whale shark from vulnerable to endangered, with the organisation citing fishing and ship strikes as key reasons the population has more than halved in the past 75 years.
Whale Sharks have a welcome refuge on the Ningaloo Coast and millions of dollars from various government and non-government organisations have been pumped into research to protect the species.
Ningaloo Outlook research scientist Matt Vanderklift said protecting the whale shark was important both for its conservation value and economic importance for WA.
“Through the Ningaloo Outlook partnership with BHP... the goal of the study is to try to understand the movements of the whale sharks,” he said.
“By knowing where individual whale sharks go we can start to understand the risk profile they face.
“More marine parks are always good but when you have animals which don’t really recognise borders, you really have to have really co-ordinated approach.”
Mr Vanderklift said of the seven sharks with satellite tags, one was currently at the Rowley Shoals, two were near the Montebello Islands and the other five had remained off the Ningaloo Coast.
While the Ningaloo Coast is a safe haven for the whale shark, they continue to be targeted in locations such as southern China and Oman.
IUCN red list co-author Brad Norman said the latest assessment of whale shark populations was concerning.
“We cannot sit back and fail to implement direct actions to minimise threats facing whale sharks at the global scale. It is clear that this species is in trouble,” he said.
“While listing under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species limits international trade in whale shark products, it has no ability to restrict domestic trade, which can be significant.
A whale shark sighted on Ningaloo Discovery tour out of Exmouth. Whale sharks have recently been listed as endangered species.