The Home Coming of Whale Sharks
The Home Coming of Whale Sharks

The Home Coming of Whale Sharks

Whale Shark ConservationThe Whale Shark, Rhincodontypus, belongs to the family Rhincodontidae, order orectoloviforms, is the world's largest fish. It is easily recognizable due to its broad flattened head, large mouth, pattern of light spots on dark background and white ventral surface.Little is known about its biology and habit.It is pelagic, warm tropical water dwelling, plankton feeder. It bears live young ones. Weighing up to 35 tons and measuring up to 20 meters, its longevity ranges from 60-100 years.

Despite its immense size, the Whale Shark is harmless to human beings. It has few defenses. Its ability to reach a very large size combined with a tough (thick) skin present on the dorsal surface is used for protection.

The Whale Shark has a very widespread distribution and occurs throughout the world's tropical and warm temperate seas. The knowledge of its biology and ecology is very limited. Like many other shark species, the species has innate biological characteristics such as large size, slow-growth, late maturity and extended longevity that probably limit recruitment and make it particularly susceptible to exploitation. These characteristics may also mean that populations are slow to recover from any over exploitation.

Earlier Whale Shark did not enjoy a protected status and used to be slaughtered in large numbers till 2001.The Indian Government's Ministry of Environment and Forest granted full legal protection to Whale Sharks in Indian territorial waters by adding the species to Schedule-I of the Wildlife (protection)Act, 1972 under sub secti on (1) of section 61, on 28th May 2001. It is the first fish to be protected by Indian Law.

Past conservation efforts

Forest Department has been taking measures for protection and conservation of this unique marine species along the Gujarat Coast since 2001 .The focus area has been coastal talukas ofVeraval&Sutrapada and Mangroltaluka of Junagadh district. The focus groups are Kharva and koli communities.Notification and protected status of Whale Shark was received with mixed feelings among stakeholders.Building awareness of protected status of the fish and ban on hunting, among Kharva community and targeting diametrically opposite section of society, the fishing community and citizens in urban inlands areas was a herculean task As a result, the compensation scheme of Government of Gujarat, Forest and Environment Department Notification vide GR no. walp - 20.06 - 1461- g - 1, dated: 21/12/2006 and WLP/1011/1511/Wsachivalay/Gandhinagar/Dt.15/03/2012 provides for fisherman to be paid compensation not exceeding INR 25,000/- in lieu of damaged nets, cut during rescue operations.

Following Efforts are being made for conservation of Whale Sharks

  • To protect and Conserve the Whale Shark in the Gujarat coast through rescue operation.
  • To build a sense of pride for the Whale Shark among the fisherman community through awareness campaign such that people that area enthusiasm to protect Whale Shark and also among the general masses.
  • To study Whale Shark Ecology with special focus on habitat preference, migration of Whale Shark across continents, genetic makeup and population estimation of Whale Shark.
  • To motivate the public about importance of whale shark Rescue and Conservation through Awareness campaign or mass movement.

For this information of Whale Shark getting trapped in the nets of fishing boat/ trawler is transmitted to the land by the respective crew. It is forwarded to forest range office.The respective staff organises a rescue operation by collecting required staff from among the beat guards available, local labourers, fisheries personnel, boat and other necessary resources.Rescue boat leaves for the site of the trapped Whale Shark.On reaching the spot, the staff, volunteers and workmen cut the nets and releases the fish. The operation is documented (by videography or photographed) and accordingly compensation was paid.

Also since 2012, the self documentation scheme has been introduced where the Fisherman him self takes photos of the trapped Whale Shark and releases it on the spot. After coming back to the sea coast, he submits the information and photographs and gets his compensation.

ForestDepartment has surged far ahead in its endeavor in creating awareness among fishing community and has succeeding on turning "hunters to protectors”. Till date 412 Whale Sharks have been successfully rescued & released into sea by JunagadhForest division. A species that was massively hunted and had acquired vulnerable status has within a very short span of six years transformed into a legally protected species, and a flagship showcasing marine conservation and in marine Eco system.

Public Private Participation has played a very significant role inthe long term conservation of this endangered marine species. Forest Department worked in cooperation with Wildlife Trust Of India, Tata Chemicals and local fishermen community to achieve this success. Famous Ram Katha narrator and religious leader Mr. MorariBapu was roped in as an Ambassador for the cause of Whale shark conservation. He appealed to fishing community to save the Whale Shark, comparing Whale sharks visit to Gujarat sea coast to a daughters visit to her parental home for delivering the young ones. His religious appeal evoked right sentiments among the local fishermen to save the Whale Shark.

Statement Showing details of the Whale Shark Rescue Cases

Whale Shark Conservation

Sr. No. Year Cases Recorded Amout Compensation Paid
(Rs in lakh)
1 2014-15 12 1.63
2 2013-14 51 5.53
3 2012-13 67 7.82
4 2011-12 32 5.07
5 2010-11 60 9.81
6 2009-10 52 8.01
7 2008-09 102 19.25
8 2007-08 32 5.85
9 2006-07 2 0.5
10 2005-06 2 0.5
Total 412 63.97
Statement Showing details of the Whale Shark Rescue Cases
Sr. No. Year Cases Recorded Amout Compensation Paid
(Rs in lakh)
1 2014-15 12 1.63
2 2013-14 51 5.53
3 2012-13 67 7.82
4 2011-12 32 5.07
5 2010-11 60 9.81
6 2009-10 52 8.01
7 2008-09 102 19.25
8 2007-08 32 5.85
9 2006-07 2 0.5
10 2005-06 2 0.5
Total 412 63.97

Showing a photo of Whale Shark Day Celebration as a part of Whale Shark conservation campaign

Whale Shark ConservationAs a part of Whale Shark conservation campaign; fishing community, coast - guard, Forest and Fisheries staff were sensitized so that a sense of responsibility and ownership will be developed. This will be important for conservation of the whale shark in Gujarat in long term. Construction of protection chowkis and on-shore and off shore patrolling and providing facilities to the staff working in coastal areas will strengthen this unique conservation effort.

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