Wildlife Trust of India to launch year-long ‘save the Whale Shark campaign’ in Karnataka, Kerala, Lakshadweep on August 30

The campaign will be inaugurated in Mangaluru

August 25, 2022 04:57 pm | Updated 04:57 pm IST - MANGALURU

A file photo of a Whale Shark being buried at NTR beach in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh.

A file photo of a Whale Shark being buried at NTR beach in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh.

Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), a nature conservation organisation, will launch a ‘save the Whale Shark campaign’ in Karnataka, Kerala and Lakshadweep on the occasion of International Whale Shark Day on August 30.

The Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus) is the largest fish on earth, and a keystone species in marine ecosystem. It can grow to a length of approximately 18 metres and weigh as much as 21 tonnes.

Although distributed widely across tropical and warm temperate seas, limited information is available on the population trends of this species, especially along the Indian coastline. The big fish has the highest level of protection as a Schedule I Species in the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

Minister for Ports, Fisheries and Inland Water Transport S. Angara will inaugurate the year-long campaign at Milagres Hall in Mangaluru on August 30.

The campaign will run along coastal Karnataka, Kerala and the Lakshadweep islands in collaboration with the Forest and Fisheries Departments of Karnataka, Kerala and the Lakshadweep administration. The campaign aims to connect marine fisher folk, village communities and students for conservation awareness on the Whale Shark.

Further, the campaign aims to reduce accidental entanglements in fishing nets with fishermen releasing whale shark. A mobile application has been developed to record whale shark spotting and rescues for further conservation action.

A similar WTI project, operational in Gujarat for the last 20 years, has resulted in fisher folk releasing over 900 whale sharks in the Arabian Sea. All the fishermen who have rescued the big fish have been made Whale Shark Conservation Champions.

Earlier, the fisher folk all along the west coast of India used to hunt the whale shark for commercial trade. Today, accidental entanglement in fishing nets, collision with boats as well as extensive coastal pollution are major threats to whale sharks.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports whale shark population as decreasing and its global status notified as ‘endangered’. According to IUCN, the only way to curb accidental mortality is to ensure the release of the entangled whale shark from fishing nets without any delay. For this, the primary target group, which is the fishermen need to be sensitised.

The rising level of plastic debris in oceans is a large-scale environmental problem with widespread impact. Owing to their feeding strategies, this filter-feeding megafauna is particularly susceptible. To address these issues, WTI is expanding the Whale Shark Conservation project, with support from Oracle, along the coast of Karnataka, and reinstating the campaign back in Kerala and Lakshadweep.

Vivek Menon, founder and Executive Director of Wildlife Trust of India, said that the Whale Shark is a migratory guest in Indian coastal waters, traveling thousands of kilometres from Australia and South East Asia.

B.C. Choudhury, trustee, Wildlife Trust of India and Principal Investigator of the project, said that Karnataka and Kerala are significant Whale Shark landing areas after the Gujarat coast.

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