Are Your Chances of Scuba Diving With Whale Sharks Being Threatened?
Other than the ever present threat from man, the adult whale shark has no natural enemies. What little is known about their migration patterns is known because of the tagging of a few individuals. In general, they prefer the tropical regions around the world with warmer waters between 18 to 30Aï¿½C where plankton abound, although they have also been recorded to dive deeper than 980m to where the water is as cold as 10Aï¿½C.
Whale sharks are in pretty much a constant state of migration, presumably going where the food is, which spans a large area. As yet, no mating sites have been found and scientist can therefore only speculate about such things as whale sharks being pretty much loners, only getting together when they mate.
Unfortunately, the planet’s largest fish is on the verge of extinction. The World Conservation Union lists them as ‘Vulnerable’. In Taiwan, documented catches have declined by 50 to 80% from the mid-1980’s to 1990’s. In Gujarat, India, 160 whale sharks were landed between January and May 2000 compared to 279 within the same time the previous year. In Thailand, sightings of have also declined significantly.
Why is this so, you might wonder? Well, whale sharks are extremely vulnerable to over exploitation by man for several reasons. They have a slow growth rate, only reaching maturity at around 30 years old and living as long as 60 – 100 years. Their reproduction rate is also very slow – long intervals between pregnancies and producing around a few hundred pups at one time. Quite simply, they cannot populate fast enough to keep up with man’s consumption.
Whale shark meat and fins are considered gourmet cuisine in some Asian markets where a single fin can fetch up to US$ 10,000. A restaurant in Beijing once sold 3 fins from whale sharks for over US$ 72,000 in November 1999.
A number of non-profit organisations have been campaigning tirelessly to protect the world’s largest animal from over-exploitation and the very real threat of extinction. Some of them are Wildaid, the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and in Thailand, the Save The Whale Shark for the Thai Seas Conservation Club.
So the real question is where is the best spot for you to scuba dive with Whale sharks? Encounters are virtually guaranteed in several parts of the world at the right season – namely, off the Seychelles, Thailand – Richelieu Rock and Hin Daeng, Christmas Island, Mozambique and Western Australia.