CHENNAI: Barely days after 20 whale sharks were spotted off Neelankarai beach, another one was seen circling just 50m off the Panaiyur coast on Friday. Supraja Dharini, chairperson, Tree Foundation told TNIE, “We received information at around 10.30 am and our team reached the location by noon.
The whale shark was approximately 15-18 ft long. Its face, tail and dorsal fin were visible. The animal was grey with a white belly. The skin was marked with pale yellow spots and stripes which are generally unique to each individual. The team confirmed that the whale shark was a different individual from the one sighted on June 9-10,” she said.
These sightings are awe-inspiring and a positive sign for their conservation. They are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, and their populations are declining due to several factors, including illegal fishing, bycatch and pollution.
Chennai wildlife warden E Prasanth told TNIE, “Whale sharks coming so close to the shore is very unusual. There is dense plankton growth and an abundance of small fish in the rich nearshore waters. This must be attracting these gentle giants.
Also, this year there are increased sightings of dolphins and the number of animals washing ashore is also high. We need to carry out a scientific study to understand these interactions better. Six dolphins and one Indo pacific finless porpoise washed ashore this year.” Supraja said Tree Foundation was planning to analyse the recorded data from the sighting to learn more about the whale shark.
Environment Secretary Supriya Sahu said the government will explore the possibility of geo-tagging a few whale sharks to get better insights. “We can partner with domain and scientific institutions like CMFRI and WII for the study.”