FORMER Cottesloe resident and Ecocean director Brad Norman has continued his work protecting whale sharks since he featured in the Western Suburbs Weekly in 2009.
“Back then they were classified as a vulnerable species, until 2015 when they ticked over to endangered,” Mr Norman said from Exmouth, where whale shark watching season has now started.
Mosman Park Primary School students are among those from 15 WA schools participating in Ecocean’s latest project The Race Around The World, in which students follow tagged whale sharks on computers.
Each school raised $5000 for a tag before the project was launched at the WA Maritime Museum 10 days ago. Mr Norman said the Department of Education-supported project enabled students to use science, technology, engineering and maths studies.
He said there was a chance one of the project’s whale sharks tagged near Exmouth could be the animal to show researchers the as-yet unknown places where they mate and feed.
“The ultimate goal is to identify and protect the critical breeding and feeding habitats,” Mr Norman, who has studied the world’s largest fish and WA’s marine emblem since 1995, said.
“It’s still a mystery but we’ve got the technology and ability to get to that point, but we just need the funding.”
Ecocean’s data indicates steady numbers of whale sharks, dominated by younger males, visit Ningaloo, but the filter-feeding giants still face the threats of shark fin fishing, pollution, loss of food habitats caused by agricultural run-off and global warming.
Ecocean educates fishers and governments about the sharks in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Taiwan, which protected the species in 2009.
However, fin fishing is held on an almost industrial scale in China.
“We worked with a Chinese university and what we found was quite disconcerting, because we found in one location there were 600 individual whale sharks being killed each year and there could 100 of those sites,” Mr Norman said.
Mr Norman said protecting the declining species needed thinking about reducing pollution, run-off from farms clouding water where the shark’s plankton food grows, and global warming.