In pics: World’s largest fish travels from Gujarat, reaches Maldives in 100 days

A 18-foot female whale shark fitted with a satellite transmitter is heading towards the Somalian coast, more than 100 days after it set off from Sutrapada, off the Saurashtra coast in Gujarat. Since December 30, it has travelled 3,000 km.

More about whale sharks

  • Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world.
  • In July last year, the conservation status of the whale shark was updated from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
  • There are about 12,000 whale sharks in the world, of which one-third are found in India.
  • “In the past 10 years, we have released 650 whale sharks that were entangled in nets in Gujarat,” said professor BC Choudhury, principal investigator and advisor for the project.

The journey of this fish will be the first and longest migratory movement of whale sharks ever recorded from the Indian subcontinent, said researchers from the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). The whale shark was the seventh to be satellite tagged in December 2016. The tags on the earlier six didn’t work well and stopped transmitting signals for 40 to 60 days.

“Satellite tagging will help us find out where whale sharks come from and where they go. We wanted to find out if they come to Gujarat to mate with other sharks or to find food. Whale sharks gather off the Somalian coast. We want to see if this one breeds in those waters,” said professor BC Choudhury, principal investigator and advisor for the project.

“Knowing how this endangered species moves will help us design a more robust conservation and management plan, in collaboration with other countries,” said Sajan John, project head, marine projects, WTI.

He added that the whale shark had travelled along the Arabian Sea before reaching Maldives and was now in international waters.

On December 30 last year, a fisherman from the coastal village of Sutrapada told the WTI project team that a female whale shark was entangled in his fishing net, about 7km off the coast. The field team, range forest officer and customs superintendent rescued the whale shark, which was found to be healthy and active.

A tissue sample was collected for genetic analysis, after which the satellite tag was attached and the whale shark was freed. The tag was programmed to transmit signals on alternate days.

The whale shark has travelled 3,000 km since December 23 last year. (HT)

The majority of female whale sharks found in Indian waters gather near Gujarat, where they were earlier hunted for their liver oil, used to waterproof boats. The by-products of the oil were exported.

In 2001, the whale shark became the first fish in India to be protected, after it was listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

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