Press Release

India begins contributing to global whale shark research; first individual identified in Gujarat
April 27, 2010

Veraval, Gujarat: With scientific studies on whale sharks recently initiated in the western state of Gujarat, Indian marine conservationists have identified the country’s first individual whale shark.

The identification process employed underwater photography and subsequent comparison of the photographs in a global database of whale sharks reported and identified from more than 40 countries across the world. The pattern of spots around the pectoral fins and the gills region is used to identify individual whale sharks.

The photo-identification exercise is a component of the Whale Shark Conservation Project — a joint venture of the Gujarat Forest Department, Tata Chemicals and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). Aimed at studying the population and migration of whale sharks, the photo-identification is being implemented in collaboration with ECOCEAN, which maintains the global whale shark database and coordinates this international research.

“We are very excited about this development,” said RV Asari, chief wildlife warden, Gujarat. “It’s no doubt a historic moment for India, for the state of Gujarat and for the people particularly the fishing community of the state, but also more significantly for the conservation of this species in the country.”

“We, at Tata Chemicals, are very excited about this development. We have been involved in the Save the Whale Shark Campaign since its very inception, and are now supporting the research on this very beautiful species — the gentle giant — our Vhali. We hope that this first is a beginning that will lead us to identification on many more individuals, and will help the international community join the dots to create an in-depth understanding of whale sharks,” said Alka Talwar, head, Community Development, TCL.

“As this whale shark was the first to be identified in India, it has been labelled I-001 (which is now the permanent identification for this individual). The whale shark photo-identification is being done in a lot of other countries, but this individual has not been recorded elsewhere. As research progresses, we will try to figure out if this individual, as well as others that we encounter in the future, belongs to a resident population or is migratory,” said Dhiresh Joshi, coordinator, WTI.

The underwater photographs were taken during a whale shark rescue operation carried out by a team of Gujarati fishermen, forest officials and biologists from WTI, on April 12. The identified whale shark had been accidentally caught in a fishing net off the Veraval coast. Continuing a trend initiated several years ago following the massively successful Save the Whale Shark campaign, the local fishermen including the boat owner Nathalal Govind Mandvi, cut open their fishing net to release the fish. 

“We have attempted underwater photography of whale sharks during several rescue operations since January this year. However, turbid waters affected the clarity of the photographs. Fortunately, the water was sufficiently clear this time, and we were able to get the shots we needed,” said Manoj Matwal, assistant field officer, WTI, who took the photographs with the help of Prakash Doriya, a former fisherman who currently works in the project. CM Rathod, forest guard, helped coordinate the rescue and the underwater photography exercise.