For decades these gentle giants have graced the St Helena shores, and in recent years they have stirred a great deal of interest particularly in the fields of Science and Research. In 2015, Dr. Alistair Dove and a team of Marine Biologists from the Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, USA were led to St Helena to discover what Dr. Dove describes as a missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle of the global understanding of Whale Sharks.
In 2016, Whale sharks were classified as endangered, edging them closer to extinction. Efforts to study, preserve and safeguard the remaining populations have become critical as their protected status does not guarantee relief of uncontrolled tourism, over-fishing, and shipping.
In other Whale shark hotspots around the world, studies have revealed that there are significant imbalanced ratios of genders, juveniles, and adults. Using a variety of techniques including computer-aided photographic identification, laser, acoustic array and several different types of tracking tags, the team began building up a picture of the St Helena whale shark community.
Over 30 Whale Sharks were tagged and dozens of photographs taken to assist the team in understanding where they go, how they grow, how they reproduce, and how St Helena fits into a global footprint for this species. Having collated data over 3 visits, it was on their last trip in January 2018 that the Georgia Aquarium team revealed significant news at the first St Helena Conference.
Never before had any destination observe findings of equal adult gender ratio as found on St Helena, suggesting that St Helena is a key mating station.
Rare eyewitness accounts of mating would validate this theory with observance also given to St Helena’s rare oceanic clarity, high local fidelity, and no apparent obvious migration path. Arriving on cue with the height of summer (January – March) whale shark encounters here are doubly unique.
Measures are in place to protect our marine species not least our treasured Whale Shark. With only a handful of Marine operators conducting tours, whale shark encounters are strictly managed with controlled regulations and guidelines. Seeing the Whale Sharks during their seasonal visit is an experience not to be missed.