Tracking whale shark behavior is crucial for their protection •


The largest fish Mining negatively affects fish populations across North America in the ocean – the whale shark (type of rhinoceros) – is a globetrotter who can occasionally be found lounging in the coastal waters of the Panamanian Pacific. However, scientists still know very little about the habits of these creatures.

A research team led by Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) has now explored the behavior of this endangered species. Experts have found that while most whale sharks feed primarily on coastal waters, seamounts and the ridges of the Panamanian Pacific – where they have access to an abundance of small fish and plankton – some of them can also be seen swimming north and south along the coast. , to the Equator and Mexico, and even further out into the open ocean.

Like other large sharks, R. typus can take years or even decades to reach maturity and reproduce – a trait that makes them vulnerable to population declines, especially when human threats abound. For example, they are often caught in fishing nets as bycatch, or run the risk of ship strikes in cases where shipping lanes overlap their feeding grounds. Thus, better understanding and predicting the behavior of whale sharks is crucial to protecting this species.

“This species requires clear regional planning,” said the study’s lead author, Héctor Guzmán, a marine ecologist at STRI. “Once feeding and breeding congregation areas have been identified, certain protective measures must be implemented. Recently announced marine protected area extensions in the region provide an interesting platform for large-scale conservation practices.

Although they often frequent marine protected areas, whale sharks also spend a lot of time in areas of industrial fishing and maritime traffic, which could put them at greater risk and decrease their populations. “The study shows how complex it is to protect whale sharks: the tagged individuals visited 17 marine protected areas in five countries, but more than 77% of their time they were in areas without any protection” , said Catalina Gómez, co-author of the study. marine ecologist University of Panama.

These results suggest that conservation actions should go beyond the creation of local marine protected areas and focus instead on protecting large ocean regions and establishing marine corridors that transcend national borders.

“A periodic tagging program should continue for two main reasons: first, we still don’t know where the species breeds, and tracking can lead us in the right direction,” Guzmán said. “Second, we know they move across large areas.”

“We have identified potential corridors or sea lanes, as well as aggregation areas, which require management attention and clear protection rules. Monitoring will allow us to better identify these regional routes,” he concluded.

The study is published in the journal Marine Science Frontiers.

By Andrei Ionescu, Personal editor


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