Whale Shark Monitoring Program


Background

Whale sharks are a poorly understood species globally. Many questions remain about their feeding behaviour, life cycle, and distribution around the world. Utila has one of the few, year round population of whale sharks, however, several key questions remain unanswered such as:

 

  • What attracts whale sharks to Utila?
  • How many whale sharks come to Utila each year?
  • Where do the whale sharks go before and after visiting Utila?
Our Whale Shark Research Program

To answer some of these questions, WSORC has been monitoring the distribution, abundance, and population demographics of whale sharks around the island of Utila since the late 1990’s.  In addition to the data collected pertaining to size, sex, and behaviour of whale sharks, WSORC are building their own photo ID database of individuals using the photo recognition software i3s. The software uses photographs of the spot patterning behind the gills of the shark, and any scar observations to distinguish individual whale sharks. WSORC also contributes information to the non-profit scientific organization WildBook.  This is an accessible online photo-identification library that collates whale shark sightings from around the world and uses free photo-identification software to identify individual whale sharks.

Future Research

Although WSORC has an extensive sightings database, we are looking to spend some of our research protocol. We are hoping to combine the use of aerial surveys, DNA sampling, and archival tagging to our research methods to gain a more detailed insight into the whale shark population dynamics around Utila. Please contact info@wsorc.org if you would like to know more.