Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Citizen Photographers Help Whale Sharks


Recreational divers can now help marine biologists track Whale Shark populations by uploading their personal photographs and details about the sharks they observed in the water (scarring, for example) on the website ECOCEAN.

The Library uses photographs of the skin patterning behind the gills of each shark and any scars to distinguish between individual animals. Cutting-edge software supports rapid identification using pattern recognition and photo management tools.


According to the website, the marine biologists have already received 200,000+ Whale Shark images from members of the public.

Based on information collected from ECOCEAN, marine biologists recently concluded that Whale Shark populations are increasing on Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia.

Whale Sharks migrate up to 12,000km and prior to the 1980s there had been only 350 confirmed Whale Shark sightings. More than 500 new Whale Sharks, considered vulnerable, have been discovered at Ningaloo Reef since ECOCEAN began in 1993.

Lead author on the ESR study Jason Holmberg says smaller whale sharks have also been discovered feeding at the reef during the study.

“Why are more and more juveniles arriving on the reef? It’s unclear, but it’s positive news,” Mr Holmberg said.

Founder of the ECOCEAN whale shark project and Murdoch University scientist Brad Norman says the research shows that whale sharks can increase where they are well-protected.

“We have also demonstrated the power of citizen-science, that ordinary people around the world can make a real contribution to serious research and conservation.”

“Thanks to increasing levels of data collection, we’re finally able to estimate how many whale sharks appear annually, how long they typically remain at Ningaloo Marine Park (NMP), their patterns of arrival and departure and shifts in their population structure,” he said.

The success of the online survey has prompted scientists to issue a worldwide call to holiday-makers and divers to join in a global effort to monitor and protect the largest fish in the sea - thought to be at risk in the waters off many countries.


To upload your own photos and encounter details, go here.

source: Whale Sharks on the Rise, Perth Now, April 30, 2009.

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