Through funds raised via our supporters, ECOCEAN has recently been able to acquire both a second hand field vehicle and a research vessel. We are currently working to make these ready for our upcoming field season at Shark Bay and Ningaloo Reef in 2017. We are looking forward to expanding on the successes we have had for whale shark research, education and conservation over the past few years.
Some of these successes include:
- Driving the successful campaign to have the whale shark listed as the Official Marine Emblem of Western Australia.
- Identifying more than 7500 individual whale sharks in the global monitoring database (pioneered by ECOCEAN), including over 1300 from Australia alone!
- Confirming that some sharks return to Ningaloo over many years, including ‘Stumpy’ and ‘Zorro’ who have been returning for over two decades – the longest monitoring period for wild sharks anywhere in the world (see http://www.abc.net.au/
news/2016-10-04/ningaloo- whale-sharks-stumpy-zorro-in- annual-wa-pilgrimage/7902376).
- Discovering that whale sharks occur much further along the WA coast than previously thought (see http://media.murdoch.edu.
au/its-not-just-ningaloo- whale-sharks-shown-to-favour- much-of-the-wa-coastline).
Following extensive whale shark movements away from Ningaloo using satellite tracking – including the first ever fully tracked homing movements of whale sharks returning to Ningaloo (see https://zoatrack.org/
In a major development, ECOCEAN now engages the next generation of scientists – by involving schools around Western Australia. In 2015, with the endorsement of the WA Department of Education, individual schools sponsored satellite tags that ECOCEAN then deployed on whale sharks as part of the ECOCEAN Whale Shark Race Around the World programme. Students were able to follow their tagged sharks on a dedicated website as they “raced”. The Race was incorporated into the school curriculum to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) learning and was a great success – for us and for the kids!
Our educational work has not stopped there – research ECOCEAN has supported has been the basis for highly regarded Honours, Masters and PhD theses with universities including Murdoch University, Curtin University, University of Queensland, Australian National University, University of Leeds (UK) and Swansea University (UK), with many peer-reviewed scientific publications produced.
The importance of our work has been acknowledged by the Chief Scientist of Western Australia and the Chief Scientist of Australia. Both are endorsing the expansion of the school programme for Race No. 2 in 2017 – when we hope to have a minimum of 20 schools, each sponsoring a satellite tag. Our aim is to track sexually mature whale sharks in particular – and potentially identify breeding areas (which are still a mystery for this cryptic species).