Still hav­ing a whale of a time

Western Suburbs Weekly - - News -

FOR­MER Cottes­loe res­i­dent and Eco­cean di­rec­tor Brad Nor­man has con­tin­ued his work pro­tect­ing whale sharks since he fea­tured in the Western Sub­urbs Weekly in 2009.

“Back then they were clas­si­fied as a vul­ner­a­ble species, un­til 2015 when they ticked over to en­dan­gered,” Mr Nor­man said from Ex­mouth, where whale shark watch­ing sea­son has now started.

Mos­man Park Pri­mary School stu­dents are among those from 15 WA schools par­tic­i­pat­ing in Eco­cean’s lat­est project The Race Around The World, in which stu­dents fol­low tagged whale sharks on com­put­ers.

Each school raised $5000 for a tag be­fore the project was launched at the WA Mar­itime Museum 10 days ago. Mr Nor­man said the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion-sup­ported project en­abled stu­dents to use sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and maths stud­ies.

He said there was a chance one of the project’s whale sharks tagged near Ex­mouth could be the an­i­mal to show re­searchers the as-yet un­known places where they mate and feed.

“The ul­ti­mate goal is to iden­tify and pro­tect the crit­i­cal breed­ing and feed­ing habi­tats,” Mr Nor­man, who has stud­ied the world’s largest fish and WA’S ma­rine em­blem since 1995, said.

“It’s still a mys­tery but we’ve got the tech­nol­ogy and abil­ity to get to that point, but we just need the fund­ing.”

Eco­cean’s data in­di­cates steady num­bers of whale sharks, dom­i­nated by younger males, visit Nin­ga­loo, but the fil­ter­feed­ing giants still face the threats of shark fin fish­ing, pol­lu­tion, loss of food habi­tats caused by agri­cul­tural run-off and global warm­ing.

Eco­cean ed­u­cates fish­ers and govern­ments about the sharks in In­done­sia, the Philip­pines, and Tai­wan, which pro­tected the species in 2009.

How­ever, fin fish­ing is held on an al­most in­dus­trial scale in China.

“We worked with a Chi­nese uni­ver­sity and what we found was quite dis­con­cert­ing, be­cause we found in one lo­ca­tion there were 600 in­di­vid­ual whale sharks be­ing killed each year and there could 100 of those sites,” Mr Nor­man said.

Mr Nor­man said pro­tect­ing the de­clin­ing species needed think­ing about re­duc­ing pol­lu­tion, run-off from farms cloud­ing wa­ter where the shark’s plank­ton food grows, and global warm­ing.

Brad Nor­man in the Weekly in 2009.

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