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Whale Shark Research

See also - Whale Shark in Utila, Facts & Figures, Controversy, Encounters

Whale Shark Research - Click to enlarge
Whale Shark in the waters of Utila

Whale Shark Research - provided by Steve Fox of Deep Blue Divers

One of the largest scientific research projects ever undertaken in the Caribbean to find out more about the whale sharks of Utila will be conducted by Deep Blue. Scientists, and marine biologists will be brought in from around the world to oversee this project. They will be tagging the whale sharks and taking DNA samples and will also be putting together one of the most extensive video and photographic libraries for all to view. Over the next 5 years Deep Blue will be obtaining new information to help in the conservation and recognition of the whale sharks of Utila. To help locate the whale sharks, the research project will be using a small spotter plane. While the project is being undertaken Deep Blue Resort guests can assist by taking video footage, photographs and by logging individual whale sharks.

Whale Shark Research - Click to enlarge
Whale Shark skin pattern recognition

Unique pattern recognition software, based on similar technology used to map stellar constellations, is used in the research program. Essentially any scuba diver, snorkeller or swimmer, using an underwater camera can assist with the research by taking a photograph of a whale shark around the gills area (see photo opposite). This photograph (and details of where and when it was taken) are then entered into the ECOCEAN on-line database. ECOCEAN, a not-for-profit Australian based research organization, has shown that the intricate patterning of lines and spots on the body of whale sharks can act as a “fingerprint” or specific identity mark for that individual. From initial observations of several photographs taken of obviously different animals (using sex and size), it was established that the pattern of lines and spots directly posterior to the gill openings on both the left and right flank of each shark differ. Thus, each whale shark can be uniquely identified.

Since 2005, when Deep Blue Resort began participation in this Whale Shark Research Project, over 60 whale shark encounters have been logged in the database. Since the database is on-line participants in the research project can keep track of whale sharks they have photographed and return to see information on the latest sightings of their favorite shark.

Click here - to see the latest update on Whale Shark sightings in Utila

See also - Whale Shark in UtilaFacts & FiguresControversy, Encounters