In 2016, the whale shark was listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List. The largest fish in the sea is mysterious-little is known about their breeding habits. The Galapagos Whale Shark Project’s mission as of 2011 is to learn more about the creatures so that the Galapagos Marine Reserve can help them survive.
The Galapagos Whale Shark Project is an ongoing collaboration between the Galapagos National Park Service, the Turtle Island Restoration Network, naturalist Jonathan R. Green, and the Charles Darwin Foundation.
The project’s team identifies individual whale sharks by the unique fingerprint of their spots, and any physical characteristics that stand out.
A discovery by the Whale Shark Project found that almost seven hundred pregnant whale sharks pass through the area around Darwin and Wolf Islands every year-each spending only a few days. One theory suggests that the sharks use Darwin’s Arch as a navigation tool before heading out to open sea to give birth.
Research methods of the project track whale sharks with satellite tags, and take blood samples to find out the females reproductive status. Photo identification is also used to create a database that helps determine if the creatures are spotted elsewhere in the ocean. Results and findings are published on their site, and also on the website of the Galapagos Conservation Trust.
According to Earth.com, ‘..during the last 75 years, more than half of the world’s whale shark population has disappeared.’ The same article tells of a female whale shark that traveled 12,000 miles from Panama to France, France to Costa Rica, Costa Rica to the Galapagos, and then was lost before being tracked near Hawaii and making her way to the Marianas Trench.
Whale sharks only gather at a few specific places in the world. Around 20 hotspots have been identified, of these finding one like the Galapagos Islands where the majority of the population is female is rare. Studying the behavior and migration of pregnant whale sharks in the archipelago could hold a key to ocean conservation efforts that unlock secrets to the massive creatures’ livelihood.
To date, no one has seen a whale shark being born. Most juvenile whale sharks spotted in open waters are already 4 years old, making their stomping grounds in their early years a mystery as well as their births.
For divers that visit the Galapagos Islands, swimming with the gentle giants is at the top of the list and one of the highlights of a Galapagos liveaboard cruise. The main site where they frequent is Darwin’s Arch-where shallow waters that transition to deep seas provides an underwater environment that is similar to other gathering places around the world.
The islands of Darwin and Wolf became part of a new marine reserve in 2016. Whale sharks aren’t the only marine life found here in great numbers. The waters off these islands have the largest shark population per capita in the world.
Between the northern edge of the Galapagos, Cocos Islands in Costa Rica, and Colombia’s Malpelo is a migration route known as the hammerhead triangle. The area is one of the few in the world where divers can see hammerhead sharks en mass-sometimes a hundred strong.
• Galapagos whale shark season is between June and November when the Humboldt Current cools the waters around Darwin and Wolf Islands in the northwest of the archipelago. The giants of the sea are found in open water and the area around Darwin’s Arch.
• Whale Sharks are the largest fish in the sea-growing to up to 18 meters or just under 60 ft. and weigh as much as 30 metric tons.
• They are filter feeders-eating as much as 90 pounds of small fish, krill, fish eggs, and plantain a day by filtering large amounts of water through their three hundred rows of teeth.
• Over 90% of the whale sharks that visit the islands are pregnant females. Little is known about their reproduction as no one has seen a live birth. To date, only one male has been recorded since 2011 by the Galapagos Whale Shark Project.
• Diving with whale sharks in the archipelago is only possible on a Galapagos liveaboard cruise. Boats that go to Darwin and Wolf Islands include the Humbolt Explorer, the Aqua Cruise, the Aggressor III, the Galapagos Sky, and the Calipso dive yachts.
For more information about Galapagos dive tours that Happy Gringo Travel can arrange, as well as your options for exploring the mainland, contact a member of our team by clicking here.