The deep sea near Mangrol and Veraval on the western coast of Gujarat are ideal for initiating whale shark tourism and satellite-tagging studies in the country, stated a study titled “Gujarat’s Gentle Giant” released on Saturday.
“Whale shark tourism depends on good visibility and current studies show that only the deeper areas that are far from the shore show a visibility range of 2.5 to 10 metres. Among the three sites, Mangrol showed good visibility compared to Veraval. Diu had the lowest visibility. This suggests that deeper areas in Mangrol and Veraval are good for initiating whale shark tourism and satellite-tagging studies,” stated a study by Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).
The study also stated that the sea near Veraval also has “important parameters” that support growth of whale shark food like zoo plankton and phytoplankton.
Based on past records of whale shark landing and hunting along the coastal areas of Gujarat, four major fishing villages — Veraval, Mangrol, Sutrapada and Dhamlej — were found to be the most sensitive sites, as they had the maximum number of incidental capture of whale sharks and also have active fishing ports and landing centres.
Even among the 412 whale sharks rescued since 2004 in Gujarat, most of them were found in the seas near these four fishing villages.
“The value of whale sharks in terms of the revenue generated through tourism is much higher compared to that generated from whale shark hunting. This has been established in Australia, which is among the few countries with the best-known whale shark tourism practices in the globe,” it added.
Gujarat has the highest recorded landings of 279 whale sharks in December 1999 alone, with nearly 40 whale shark landings recorded in a single day. This was the primary reason for initiating a conservation action programme in the state.
WTI, which is working in collaboration with Tata Chemicals and the Gujarat government on the Whale Shark Conservation programme in the state is also planning to satellite-tag 10 more of these fish in the next couple of years.
“We have already tagged two of them, and plan to tag 10 more,” said Vivek Menon, executive director, WTI, adding that such tagging help in studying the animal movements and their migration patterns.
The first satellite tag was deployed on a male whale shark on March 13, 2011, on the Gujarat coast. The second tagging took place in December 2013. “The first successful satellite-tagging of whale sharks in India has paved the way for understanding the tagging process and monitoring the whale shark’s movement in Indian waters. Interesting patterns were witnessed by tagged individual sharks, restricted to the western coast of India,” the study added.
C N Pandey, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) of the state forest department said that the department was also considering to install chips instead of satellite tags on some of these fishes. “This will help us find out if the same group of whale sharks are revisiting the coast,” Pandey added.