SATEL­LITE TAG STUDY RE­VEALS PHILIP­PINE WA­TERS ARE IN­CRED­I­BLY IM­POR­TANT FOR EN­DAN­GERED WHALE SHARKS

Scuba Diver Australasia + Ocean Planet - - Briefing -

A new sci­en­tific study has tracked ju­ve­nile whale sharks across the Philip­pines, dis­cov­er­ing that all the sub­jects stayed within the coun­try’s wa­ters over the one-year track­ing pe­riod, em­pha­sis­ing the im­por­tance of the ar­chi­pel­ago for the species.

By at­tach­ing Wildlife Com­put­ers SPOT5 satel­lite tags, re­searchers from Large Ma­rine Ver­te­brates Re­search In­sti­tute Philip­pines (LAMAVE), Ma­rine Me­gafauna Foun­da­tion (MMF) and Tub­bataha Man­age­ment Of­fice (TMO) were able to fol­low the move­ments of ju­ve­nile whale sharks in near real-time to gain an in­sight into their behaviour. The tags work by com­mu­ni­cat­ing with passing ARGOS satel­lites, trans­mit­ting a lo­ca­tion when­ever a tagged whale shark breaks the sur­face.

The study is the most com­plete track­ing study of whale sharks in the coun­try, with satel­lite tags de­ployed on dif­fer­ent in­di­vid­u­als at mul­ti­ple sites. Seven­teen in­di­vid­ual whale sharks were tagged in three dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions in the Philip­pines: Panaon Is­land, north­ern Min­danao, and Tub­bataha Reefs Nat­u­ral Park. Tag­ging took place be­tween April 2015 and April 2016. All tagged whale sharks were ju­ve­niles, rang­ing in size be­tween four-and-a-half and seven me­tres, with 73 per­cent of the sub­jects male.

The Philip­pines is an im­por­tant hotspot for whale sharks and glob­ally hosts the third largest-known pop­u­la­tion of whale sharks. The species has been pro­tected in the Philip­pines since 1998, but 2016 saw the species move from “Vul­ner­a­ble” to “En­dan­gered” on the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species. This oc­curred af­ter a pop­u­la­tion de­cline of more than 50 per­cent, largely caused by continued exploitation in the Indo-Pa­cific. Par­tic­u­larly in South­east Asia, con­cerns re­main due to continued fish­ing in re­gional wa­ters. Thus, understanding the move­ments of whale sharks in the Philip­pines is vi­tal if we are to iden­tify con­ser­va­tion pri­or­i­ties for the species.

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