09 March 2009

Smallest whale shark find has big implications

With a rope tied around its tail, secured to a stick poked in the sand, the smallest whale shark ever found has significant implications.
Little is known about where the biggest fish in the ocean goes to give birth to its live young. Until now it was thought the Philippines was simply a stop-off point. The sighting indicates that this coastline may actually be a birthing site. This showed how critical it was to protect marine environments in the Philippines, and other countries that make up the Coral Triangle.

Tiny whale shark rescued from hawker
ninemsn.com.au 9 Mar 09;
The smallest whale shark ever found has been rescued from a hawker in the Philippines, shedding new light on the breeding habits of the biggest fish in the sea.

Scientists are celebrating the discovery of the 38cm baby whale shark - the tiniest living example of a species that typically grows to 9-14 metres and weighs 12 to 15 tonnes.

It was found at the weekend with a rope tied around its tail, secured to a stick poked in the sand in a coastal town near Donsol in Sorsogon province.

Environment group WWF said a hawker was allegedly trying to sell the fish in an area that sees the world's largest known annual gathering of whale sharks.

After checking to see the baby whale shark was unhurt, WWF, police and government officials measured and photographed it before releasing it in deeper water.

The find is very significant for scientists, who know little about where the biggest fish in the ocean goes to give birth to its live young.

Until now it was thought the Philippines was simply a stop-off point for the rare species.

But WWF-Philippines chief executive Jose Ma Lorenzo Tan says the tiny size of the whale shark caught on Friday strongly suggests it was born there.

"In spite of all the research that is being done worldwide on whale shark, to this date no one knows where they breed or give birth," Tan says.

"For many years, scientists thought that Donsol was merely a 'gas station' along the global network of marine highways where whale sharks cruised.

"This new discovery is the first ever indication that this coastline may actually be a birthing site."

Tan said the find showed how critical it was to protect marine environments in the Philippines, and other countries that make up the Coral Triangle.

"This is no surprise. After all this has happened in the Coral Triangle - the nursery of the seas - where life begins, and many things remain possible," he said.

WWF promotes conservation programs across Coral Triangle countries, which also include Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and East Timor.

It is aiming to establish a network of marine protected areas that will help ensure whale sharks continue to migrate safely to the waters off Ningaloo Reef off Western Australia's northwest coast.

Papua New Guinea is hosting a high-level meeting this week on a plan to protect marine ecosystems and food security in the Coral Triangle. Details will be announced at the Coral Triangle Initiative Summit at the World Ocean Conference on May 15.

The biggest whale shark ever recorded was caught on November 11, 1997, near the island of Baba, not far from Karachi, Pakistan.

While only 12.65 metres in length, it weighed more than 21.5 tonnes and had a girth of seven metres.

But very few have been found between birth size and four metres. One found in a study by WWF/TRAFFIC measured two metres.


History's smallest whale shark rescued in Sorsogon
Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, WWF-Philippines vice-chairman and CEO
mb.com.ph 9 Mar 09;
Whale sharks are the largest fish on earth. Donsol, a sleepy town in the Philippine province of Sorsogon, hosts what is arguably the largest known annual congregation of whale sharks in the world.

On the morning of March 7, word reached Nitz Pedragosa, Donsol's tourism officer, that a whale shark had been caught on March 6th in nearby San Antonio, a barangay of Pilar town, adjacent to Donsol. It was allegedly tied up, and being sold.

When the report was confirmed through local informants, the team - made up of the Tourism Officer, the Agricultural Officer, the BIO and Elson - quickly drew up an operational plan. As they pulled up to the seashore an hour later, the team was met by Captain Berango, the Pilar police chief. They expected to see a giant animal helplessly stuck, its tall dorsal fin and tail sticking out of the water. But there was nothing there. All they saw was a stick, stuck in sand, with a small rope leading away from it, into the water. Elson walked up to the stick and was amazed to find the smallest whale shark he had ever seen - a mere 15 inches long!

The team freed the shark from the rope that was tied around its tail. After checking to see that the animal was unhurt, documenting the discovery, and measuring the shark, they transferred it into a large, water-filled plastic bag to allow it to swim freely while preparing for its release. Less than three hours after the report first reached Donsol, the response team was back on their banca, shark safely in hand. They took the shark out to deeper water, where it was less likely to get entangled in a fish net, and there, they set it free.

In spite of all the research that is being done worldwide on whale sharks, to this date no one knows where they breed or give birth. The Pilar 'pup' was so small, it was probably born here and could have been what biologists call a neo-nate. Not only is this animal the smallest live whale shark on record ever to be captured and released here in the Philippines (and arguably, anywhere in the world), it is also the first indication that the Philippines, at the apex of the Coral Triangle, is probably one of the places on the planet where these giants of the sea are born.

For many years, scientists thought that Donsol was merely one of many 'gas stations' along the global network of marine highways where whale sharks cruised. This new discovery is the first ever indication that this coastline may actually be a 'birthing site'.


15-inch butanding rescued in Sorsogon
Katherine Adraneda The Philippines Star 10 Mar 09;
MANILA, Philippines - A 15-inch whale shark, locally known as butanding, has been found in Sorsogon.

Conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines (WWF-Philippines) reported yesterday that the rescue of what could be the smallest whale shark in the country, and perhaps in the world, might lead to answers to the mystery of where the sea creatures breed.

According to the WWF, the baby whale shark was caught last Friday in nearby San Antonio, a barangay of Pilar town, adjacent to Donsol in Sorsogon and was allegedly about to be sold.

A Butanding Interaction Officer (BOI) from Donsol town identified as Embet Guadamor alerted the municipal agricultural officer as well as WWF’s project leader in Donsol, Elson Aca, as soon as he received the information Saturday morning.

“A veteran of several years of fieldwork, including a multi-year stint with humpback whales in the Babuyan Islands, Elson (Aca) knew instinctively what to do. Now in stranding response mode, he grabbed his camera, cell phone and a copy of Fisheries Administrative Order 193, protecting whale sharks, and rushed to the Tourism Office,” related Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, vice-chairman and CEO of WWF-Philippines.

A team consisting of the tourism officer, agricultural officer, BIO, and Aca quickly drew up an operational plan to rescue the small whale shark, which WWF-Philippines christened the “Million Dollar Baby” for its significance and rarity.

They found the whale shark with a rope around its tail tied to a stick stuck into the sand.

The team freed the shark and checked to see that the animal was unhurt. They then documented the discovery and measured the shark, which was 15 inches from tip to tail. They put the whale shark in a large plastic bag with water to allow it to swim freely in preparation for release.

About three hours later, the team boarded a banca and took it out to deep water, where it was less likely to get entangled in a fish net, and set it free.

Tan said many researches have been done worldwide on whale sharks, but to date, no one knows where the whale sharks breed or give birth.

Tan noted that the whale shark rescued in Pilar town last Saturday was so small that “it was probably born (there) and could have been what biologists call a neo-nate.”

“Not only is this animal the smallest live whale shark on record ever to be captured and released here in the Philippines, it is also the first indication that the Philippines, at the apex of the Coral Triangle, is probably one of the places on the planet where these giants of the sea are born,” Tan pointed out.

“For many years, scientists thought that Donsol was merely one of many ‘gas stations’ along the global network of marine highways where whale sharks cruised. This new discovery is the first ever indication that this coastline may actually be a birthing site. This comes as no surprise. After all, this happened in the Coral Triangle – the nursery of the seas – where life begins, and many things remain possible,” he added.

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