The world’s largest shark eats only plankton, couldn’t bite a human if it wanted to, and is one of the few sharks that could be reasonably described as beautiful. Globally, SCUBA divers pay an estimated $50 million each year for the chance to swim with these incredible fish. Their long migrations through international waters makes international cooperation necessary to protect them, which is particularly important because the 30 years it can take for these animals to reach reproductive maturity means that populations will take a long time to recover if they are overexploited. They’re listed by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group as Vulnerable globally. Between their charismatic nature, their inability to harm humans, and their value to ecotourism, it should be easy to convince governments to protect whale sharks *, making two recent reports all the more shocking.
At the recent Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting, Australia introduced a proposal to ban intentionally setting tuna nets around whale sharks. You read that correctly: it is currently legally permissible (and not uncommon) for fishing vessels to intentionally deploy tuna purse seine nets around whale sharks. As was discussed in my dolphin-safe tuna post, schools of tuna will often aggregate around anything, including buoys, logs, or fifty foot long sharks that are extremely valuable for ecotourism and extremely vulnerable to overexploitation. Being caught in a tuna net and dragged onto the deck of a fishing vessel is often lethal, and an estimated 75 whale sharks have died since 2009. Those that survived undoubtedly experienced extreme stress, as fish that large aren’t used to supporting their own weight out of water. Unfortunately, Australia’s common-sense proposal was stalled by the Japanese delegation and was not enacted this year. According to Sonja Fordham of Shark Advocates International, it will be discussed again when the WCPFC meets again in December.
Click here to read the rest of the article.