Gill Vosper / Lily Geary
Jil Kühne / Melody Sky / Edward Doherty
Valeport helps to expand understanding of endangered whale sharks in the Maldives
The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWRSP) began as a scientific expedition in 2006 and has since grown to become the only long-term organisation that is dedicated to studying the iconic, yet endangered, whale shark species in the Maldives.
Reaching up to an incredible 65ft in length, they are the largest fish in the sea. Whale sharks are currently listed as endangered on the IUCN red list status and aggregation sites like those in the Maldives are important for juvenile sharks, making the charities research initiatives all the more crucial.
The MWRSP’s core purpose is to gain an understanding of the population characteristics and critical habitats of the whale sharks in the Maldives and how this relates to the species existence in the wider world. Valeport is proud to provide support.
How has Valeport helped MWSRP gain insight into the South Ari Marine Protected Areas (SAMPA)?
With the help of the Valeport miniTIDE sensor, which was loaned to MWSRP, the charity was able to compare the tide times in the Male atoll to provide an accurate conversion time for tides in the particular region of the Maldives. The deployment of the miniTIDE allowed the research team to record high accuracy pressure data to develop a stronger understanding of the SAMPA, which provided new insights into the re-encounter rate of whale sharks, along with their individual traits.
Fast forward ten years, the MWSRP has now been able to track over 7,000 whale shark encounters and photo-identify over 480 individual sharks. MWSRP has come to believe that these predominantly juvenile male sharks are using the area as a secondary nursery. South Ari provides perfect conditions to suit their feeding habits and thermoregulation process until they reach maturation around 30 years of age, at which point they move onto new locations. The conservation charity has found that this ‘staging ground’ for young whale sharks has the highest rate of re-sighting individual sharks anywhere in the world. The South Ari is now known to be a globally significant destination, as it is one of only a couple of sites around the world where whale sharks can be reliably encountered all year round.
In fact, some of the individual whale sharks have been encountered more than 300 times in the last 12 years, allowing the research team to observe biological traits in the species such as growth, which would be otherwise impossible in free-swimming sharks. The new findings also allowed the charity to track the damage trends such as boat strike injuries and subsequent healing rates, to better protect the whale sharks in the future.
"We're hugely grateful for Valeport’s support loaning their tide gauge and current meter. Without access to these high precision instruments, we wouldn’t be able to collect quality data over a long period of time, which is essential to understand the whale shark’s prolonged re-encounter rate at SAMPA." - Richard Rees
More recently in November 2019, Valeport loaned the MWSRP a Model 106 Current Meter, to help improve the quality and rigour of the charities research work and develop strong conclusions about critical habitats, to be able to implement good management decisions to protect the iconic whale shark species for generations to come.
Commenting on Valeport’s support, Richard Rees, Co-Founder and Managing Director of the charity, says: “We’re hugely grateful for Valeport’s support loaning their tide gauge and current meter. Without access to these high precision instruments, we wouldn’t be able to collect quality data over a long period of time, which is essential to understand the whale shark’s prolonged re-encounter rate at SAMPA. We have been able to inform decision makers based on strong scientific evidence, thus equipping them to put the correct measures in place to protect the whale shark and it’s fragile habitat.”
Richard Rees added: “Next on our research project agenda, is to gain insight into what the key processes are that occur in South Ari that makes it such a draw for the sharks. We’re looking forward to understanding more about why they are attracted to this particular location, as opposed to similar sites in the archipelago. Hopefully we will be able to obtain these answers with Valeport’s help.”