The thousandth whale shark recorded in the Philippines shows that giants still abound - at least in the Coral Triangle.
The 1000th whale shark has been identified in Philippine waters, making the Philippines the third-largest known aggregation of whale sharks in the world and the biggest in Southeast Asia, according to the online library Wildbook for whale sharks.
Whale sharks are identified by their unique spot patterns and scientists all over the world use the patterns on the left sides of their body to distinguish between individuals. Researchers from the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines (LAMAVE) and WWF-Philippines have been adopting this technique for a number of years and together with submissions from the public, the Philippines reached 1000 identified whale sharks as of 2016.
The 1000th whale shark is an incredibly important milestone for the Philippines. Once coined as the capital of whale shark hunting in Southeast Asia, the Philippines changed the fate of the species in 1998 when it became the third country in the world to protect whale sharks under BFAR Fisheries Administrative Order 193. Since then, the population has been showing signs of slow recovery. Today this iconic species attracts thousands of tourists every year and even features on the 100 Peso bill.
However, dangers lurk in the surrounding seas, meaning that it is now more important than ever to protect these animals. Recently the species was upgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, a consequence of the historical and ongoing threat of illegal fisheries, particularly in the West Philippine Sea, plus the fact that whale sharks are animals that make large-scale movements across international borders.
Researchers from LAMAVE and the Marine Megafauna Foundation have been investigating the movements of Philippine sharks using satellite tags to better understand the implications of these threats to whale sharks encountered in Philippine waters. The 1000th shark was spotted by Mr. Jon Jon Rufino whilst diving in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park - recently a hotbed for whale shark sightings.
Rufino sent the video to LAMAVE and the Tubbataha Management Office, as part of a citizen science project which encourages visitors to the park to contribute photographs and videos of their shark encounters to assess the biodiversity of the park.
Rufino's footage revealed that the shark is a juvenile male, similar in size to the juvenile sharks seen closer to shore in Donsol and Southern Leyte. Rufino's encounter is one of an increasing number of sightings in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the past few years. To date, the Tubbataha Reefs have contributed a total of 65 individuals to the national catalog of whale sharks, with additional individuals pending upload. These figures highlight the importance of the park for the largest fish in the sea.
To mark this milestone, the 1000th shark will be nicknamed “Pangga" (short for Palangga which means beloved) to honor the Philippines’ relationship with this enormous shark, which LAMAVE hopes will continue to be an iconic species for the Philippines nad the Coral Triangle long into the future.
A video illustrating the full story and featuring LAMAVE Executive Director Jessica Labaja is available here.
The 1000th whale shark on WildBook for whale sharks can be viewed here.
For further information, please contact Sally Snow at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Get the latest news from The Coral Triangle