Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Whale Sharks - Instant Tourism

Off the coast of Louisiana large aggregations of whale sharks occur each year. At least one enterprising boat captain has decided to research "whale shark tourism" in tandem with shark researcher Eric Hoffmayer of the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Lab:

The Associated Press NEW ORLEANS – A commercial fishing boat captain who spotted dozens of the world's biggest fish off Louisiana's coast turned his boat into a research vessel for a week this month, taking scientists and photographers to look for whale sharks. Seven whale sharks were identified, and three of the spotted fish were tagged; researchers were able to swim with some of them. They took video and still photographs, and skin samples for DNA work. The tags are designed to pop off and send information about the sharks' movements to a satellite after eight or nine months – earlier if the sharks dive so deep that water pressure might squash the tags.

Whale sharks are on the World Conservation Union's "red list" of threatened species. No one knows how many whale sharks exist, but researchers said the total may be as high as 500,000 – a small figure for fish.

Capt. Russell Underwood offered to host the whale shark expedition after spotting a group of at least 44 of the fish last year. Those found this month were about 55 miles off the coast.