Gentle giants swimming into danger

Source: ABC News Online

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Scientists monitoring the movement of whale sharks from Western Australia’s Ningaloo reef, off the state’s north-west, say the giant fish often swim into areas where they are in danger of being slaughtered for their fins.

Scientists from the CSIRO and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) began tagging six whale sharks in May and have been tracking their movements over the Internet.

One of the sharks has already reached Jakarta while others have headed off into the Indian Ocean.

All are still alive but AIMS scientist Dr Mark Meakin says they are swimming into danger.

"Whale shark flesh is the world’s most expensive shark product that you can buy," Dr Meakin said.

"It’s expensive because people in places like Taiwan have a particular liking for it. "

Dr Meakin says most of the sharks headed off quickly after being tagged.

"One’s been hanging around the bottom of Java in Indonesian waters for about a couple of weeks," he said.

"A couple of others have swum up towards Christmas Island now seem to be headed out, out into the open Indian ocean somewhere.

"A couple of other sharks on the other hand seem to be quite happy at Ningaloo and have only just left there after we tagged them a couple of months ago in May."

Dr Meakin says the satellite tags are yielding new information about the shark’s behaviour.

"They not only give the shark’s position, they also tell you about the water temperature it’s been swimming in and the depth it’s been diving to," Dr Meakin said.

"Now these sharks are pretty champion divers. Some of them are getting over a kilometre down into the inky blue and cold water. What they’re doing down there we have absolutely no idea."

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