Whale shark satellite tagged off Qatar coast

April 27, 2011

Amna has become the first large female wild whale shark to be satellite tagged in the Arabian Gulf, a researcher has said.

The successful tagging on Saturday was part of a study conducted by David Henderson, a British scholar, under an agreement with Qatar’s environment ministry to document sharks in Qatari waters.

“Even though it is very early in the season for whale sharks, two large whale sharks were encountered and one satellite tag was deployed on a large female that the researchers named Amna,” Henderson said.http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/qatar/whale-shark-satellite-tagged-off-qatar-coast-1.799798

“This is the first wild whale shark to be satellite tagged in the Arabian Gulf and a great achievement for this project. Amna’s tag is due to detach in 180 days, after which we will be able to find out wherea in the world she has travelled,” he said, quoted by Qatari daily Gulf Times.

According to Henderson, the project aims to satellite tag five sharks a year for each of the five years during the study period.

“The tags will provide data on how the sharks utilise the water column and on their movements within this region and beyond. The tags are attached to the animal via a skin anchor that does not harm the shark. The tag then collects location, temperature and depth data until it pops off the animal after a defined period, which is between 180 and 120 days in our case. The tag then floats to the surface and transmits its data to us via satellite for analysis,” he said.

Important study

The study will record information on all the whale sharks encountered to build up a picture of the demography of the population.

“We will also be using photo ID as a method to identify individuals and we can then track their movements if they are encountered again in the future,” Henderson said.

“With the right photograph, you can tell the difference between individual sharks. The area located behind the gills and above the pectoral fin on either the left or right side of the shark is the area used all over the world and thought to be the most stable. The spot pattern on each whale shark is unique, like a human fingerprint.”

The study will help achieve acknowledgement for the region as significantly important on a global scale for whale sharks and to provide data on this species in its waters, he said.

“No previous research has been carried out on whale sharks in the region and there is currently no baseline data to compare future data to, and that is what we are hoping to change from information already collected in this study,” said Henderson.

The study will also investigate whale shark ecology in the Arabian Gulf region, including the Gulf of Oman. Whale sharks are listed as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as their fins and other body parts are sought after in Asian markets.

“Whale sharks are the largest fish found in the world’s oceans and can reach lengths of up to 20 metres. They are charismatic gentle giants, feeding mainly on plankton, and are one of the ultimate sights for divers to see,” Henderson added.

He said as the sharks were harmless plankton feeders, he would be collecting plankton samples to find out exactly what the sharks were feeding on and why they were in Qatar at certain times of the year.

“Tissue samples will also be taken from all the animals encountered so that genetic analysis can be performed. The plankton samples will be analysed by the environment ministry’s laboratory in Doha.”

The genetic samples will be processed by the ministry’s biotech laboratory and identical samples will be sent to Dr. Jennifer Schmidt in the US who runs the global DNA whale shark database.

In 2010, the 33-day journey through the Arabian Gulf of Sammy, a young female whale shark, was mapped thanks to a satellite tag.




About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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