To save whale sharks, first we track their young

May 17, 2018, Florida International University
A researcher swims near a whale shark off the coast of Nosy Be island near Madagascar. Credit: Simon J. Pierce

An international team of researchers have for the first time uncovered the migration routes for whale sharks around Madagascar.

Surprisingly, they consistently use two major hotspots along the country's . Most of the found there are juveniles. By understanding where the younger members of this endangered species live, researchers can better inform governments on how to protect them.

"Fisheries and are the most important threats to these animals, so we need to know their and habitats," said FIU marine biologist Jeremy Kiszka, a member of the research team.

What they discovered was that whale spent a substantial amount of time near the tiny island of Nosy Be off Madagascar's northwest coast. They also found a second location favored by the sharks about 112 miles south near Pointe d'Analalava.

Why? They're following their food.

Whale sharks feed off tiny organisms that swim in the ocean and small schools of fish, which tuna also chase.

"They need productive habitats to sustain their energetic needs," Kiszka said. "The waters around Nosy Be have lots of life, lots of food for whale sharks."

Researchers are helping Madagascar's government develop guidelines for responsible whale shark viewing activities, which have become popular with western tourists.

Getting the information on the sharks' movements was a bit of a challenge. Kiszka and the team surveyed whale sharks from boats and they placed satellite tags on eight of the massive fish to gather the data. Their findings were published recently in the journal Endangered Species Research.

Explore further: The secret life of whale sharks no longer a mystery

More information: S Diamant et al. Movements and habitat use of satellite-tagged whale sharks off western Madagascar, Endangered Species Research (2018). DOI: 10.3354/esr00889

Related Stories

Whale shark logs longest-recorded trans-Pacific migration

April 26, 2018

Little is known about the world's largest living fish, gentle giants reaching 12 meters (40 feet) in length. Researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and colleagues tracked a female whale shark ...

Two whale sharks and their 22-year annual pilgrimage

October 4, 2016

Murdoch University researchers have demonstrated that two whale sharks, affectionately known as Stumpy and Zorro, have been making an annual pilgrimage to Ningaloo Reef for at least 22 years.

Tracking down the whale-shark highway

August 30, 2017

Did you know that August 30 is International Whale Shark Day? Whale sharks are the largest fishes on Earth, growing up to 18 meters (60 feet) long, but they feed mostly on tiny drifting animals such as copepods and, occasionally, ...

Recommended for you

In colliding galaxies, a pipsqueak shines bright

February 20, 2019

In the nearby Whirlpool galaxy and its companion galaxy, M51b, two supermassive black holes heat up and devour surrounding material. These two monsters should be the most luminous X-ray sources in sight, but a new study using ...

When does one of the central ideas in economics work?

February 20, 2019

The concept of equilibrium is one of the most central ideas in economics. It is one of the core assumptions in the vast majority of economic models, including models used by policymakers on issues ranging from monetary policy ...

Research reveals why the zebra got its stripes

February 20, 2019

Why do zebras have stripes? A study published in PLOS ONE today takes us another step closer to answering this puzzling question and to understanding how stripes actually work.

Correlated nucleons may solve 35-year-old mystery

February 20, 2019

A careful re-analysis of data taken at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has revealed a possible link between correlated protons and neutrons in the nucleus and a 35-year-old mystery. ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.