Ahmedabad: A whale shark was satellite-tagged for the first time in India, earlier this week, as part of research to understand behavior, ecological preferences and migration of this species.
The first set of data received on Wednesday morning indicated that the tagged individual, a 6.5 m long male rescued off the Gujarat coast, had reached the coast of Maharashtra, according to a statement by Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).
The satellite tag was installed by a team of researchers under the Whale Shark Conservation Project, a joint venture of the Gujarat Forest Department and WTI, supported by Tata Chemicals Limited (TCL).
“This individual was caught in a fishing net offshore Sutrapada. As with other such individuals in the past, the local fishermen along with the Project team, freed the whale shark. There were several rescues last week, but this case was favourable for tagging as the tail was suitably exposed and the tag could be deployed efficiently and swiftly,” said Anita Karn, deputy conservator of Forests, Junagadh.
Satellite tagging is the latest development in the Whale Shark Conservation Project that had earlier initiated photo-identification, genetic analysis and visual tagging of whale sharks in India.
“The satellite tag or spot tag was attached to the caudal fin of the fish; it is the marine equivalent of a satellite collar with the data collected being transmitted to the satellite every time the individual surfaces,” explains Manoj Matwal, assistant field officer, WTI. “This tag is expected to last for about six months and give us data related to movement of the fish, its preference in water temperature, diurnal and nocturnal activities as well as swimming patterns between different layers of water.”
The top priority for the team was to carry out the rescue and tagging operation ensuring minimal disturbance possible to the Shark. WTI Veterinarian, Dr Minla Zangmu Lachungpa, who also collected tissue sample of the individual for genetic analysis, closely watched the animal during the course of the operation.
Indicating success of satellite tagging, the first signal from the animal was received early on Wednesday, 68 hours after the tag was fixed. The signal was received 250 kms off the coast of Mumbai, revealing that the fish has travelled southwards along the western coast.
Over the coming months, researchers will be closely following the patterns of movement of this whale shark, giving unprecedented insight to the lives of this elusive species along the Indian coast.
The whale shark is the largest fish in the world and was once brutally killed across the shores of Gujarat for its liver oil used to make water-proof boats. Made aware of the plight of the fish through the Whale Shark Campaign, the local fishermen began voluntary release of whale sharks accidentally caught in their nets. The fish was listed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 in 2001, according it with the highest level of protection in the country.
Since its inception in 2008, the Whale Shark Conservation Project has been working with the support of the fishing communities, involving them in the conservation of this largest fish in the world.