The Madagascar Whale Shark Project’s main scientific objective is to establish the occurrence, residency, and population structure of whale sharks off Nosy Be, Madagascar.
This will be achieved through the collection of standardised sighting data, such as the GPS location, size and gender of all individuals, coupled with photo-identification for every encountered shark. Data will be collected from boats owned by Les Baleines Rand’eau, a whale shark viewing operator we are currently collaborating with. We will also collect small skin samples to examine diet and movements using biochemical markers (stable isotopes and fatty acids), along with population genetics and genomics studies, with the collaboration of multiple scientific institutions.
Whale shark photo-identification data will be compared with photos collected throughout the Indian Ocean, and further afield, using a global online database of whale shark sightings (www.whaleshark.org). This will enable to investigate the connectivity of Madagascar to other regional aggregations through the movements of individual sharks.This will help to quickly determine whether observed declines in some areas, such as Mozambique and the Seychelles, are a result of sharks shifting their feeding area to Madagascar.
We will also deploy satellite tags to track sharks movements. Here’s some more information on our satellite tagging project.
Finally, an important contribution of this project with be to work with the government to provide information necessary for appropriate management measures to be implemented in Nosy Be.
The objectives of the project are to establish:
1) Baseline population abundance of Nosy Be whale sharks to establish future population trends. This will act as a marker of management success.
2) Information on local and international movements of whale sharks from North-West Madagascar using satellite tags and collaborative photo-identification, to establish whether a true decline in regional whale shark numbers has occurred, or rather a shift in their centre of abundance.
2) Population structure of whale sharks present (size and gender distribution). Juvenile-dominated populations typically correspond with feeding areas.
3) First guidelines for a Code of Conduct for whale shark tourism,
4) Connectivity with other whale shark aggregations in the region. If such links exist they will be quickly noticed thanks to collaborative photo-identification. Datasets in the Seychelles and Mozambique already exist since more than a decade, and research in Tanzania began in 2012.
Check out our project updates for information on our 2016 season.