A shark that just wants to be your friend

Meet the gentle giant that just wants to be your friend – one of the ocean’s biggest mammals, the whale shark!

The whale shark can grow up to 80m long, weighing in at a whopping 30+ tonnes! Many can live up to 70 years or more, and have been around since the Jurassic era 245-65 million years ago (the first discovered in 1828 off the South African coast). With tiny teeth and a tiny throat, the whale shark feeds only on platonic creatures and small fish.

Image from www.divezone.net

The species is rare, ‘prior to the mid-1980’s there have been less than 350 confirmed reports of whale sharks worldwide’, as reported by www.environment.gov.au, but there has been a recent increase in population off the Kenyan Coast. This has resulted in these beautiful creatures becoming a commodity – their fins and flesh sold as an expensive delicacy in Taiwan, China and Japan.

Under international law the whale sharks are only given a secondary type of protection, meaning trade is allowed but must be monitored. Most specialists however would agree this level of protection is not enough, and as a result Volker Bassen decided to create the East African Whale Shark Trust.

The trust’s site, http://www.giantsharks.org/, states ‘the overall aim of many whale shark projects is to raise awareness so that the level of protection afforded to whale shark is increased. The more we know about whale sharks the easier it will be to review the level of protection. The EAWST aims to provide a research centre collecting and analyzing data on the local whale shark population, its habits and movements.’

Now isn’t that a cute face! 

If you want to know more about the whale sharks and Volker Bassen’s trust, catch the award winning film ‘Papa Shillingi’ available on Garage now!