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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Whale sharks all closely related, says study

Whale sharks all closely related, says study
Nicolette Craig, Practical fishkeeping

Whale shark (Picture: Christoph Scheutzenhofer, Creative Commons)

A new study has discovered that whale sharks around the world are all related which puts them at risk from overfishing.

Until recently, it wasn’t known if overfishing in some areas would affect overall whale shark populations as no one knew if the sharks were migratory or if they tended to stay in their own territories.

Although this species is listed in Appendix II of CITES, and with strict quotas in place, the financial gains for anyone exceeding their quota far outweigh the potential fines and consequences.

Lead scientist Jennifer Schmidt said: “Our data show that whale sharks found in different oceans are genetically quite similar, which means that animals move and interbreed between populations.

“From a conservation standpoint, it means that whale sharks in protected waters cannot be assumed to stay in those waters, but may move into areas where they may be in danger."

"The only real threat to whale sharks is us. To design proper conservation plans, we need to understand the sharks' lifestyle. We can only protect their habitat if we know what habitat they use."

Schmidt hopes that more countries will close whale shark fisheries and place more effort into alternatives such as ecotourism programs.

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