You may have seen in the press the recent announcement from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, that whale sharks (along with the enigmatic wing head shark) have been downgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN Red List. I thought it might help to explain exactly what that means, so I’ve done it as a sort of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
What’s “the IUCN Red List”? The Red List is a sort of master-file about the conservation status of different species. As you can see from the screen capture below, the ranking goes from Least Concern (LC) for really common species, all the way down to Extinct (EX), with a couple of other categories for species that haven’t been evaluated (Not Evaluated NE) or that were evaluated but there wasn’t enough scientific data to decide on a status (Data Deficient DD). All of these levels are recoverable, except for Extinct (EX); there ain’t no coming back from gone.
This summer, we asked all of you to submit your best photos to our 2016 Marine Wildlife and Seascape Photo Contest. We were amazed by all of the beautiful images that you submitted and incredibly grateful for those of you who voted. After weeks of deliberation, our judges have spoken! Here are the winners from this year’s photo contest!
A hearty congratulations to Tracey Jennings and Daniela Hill for claiming the top two prizes!
“In the Blue,” the photo by Tracey Jennings, is a stunning shot of a whale shark in the waters of Indonesia. Judges loved the “simplicity of nature outlined by patterns and shapes”, and the use of light in the image, earning her the “Judges’ Choice” award.
It’s been over a decade since we first met Nemo, Pixar’s adventurous young clownfish on a mission to get home to his dad. Along the epic journey, we were introduced to vegetarian sharks, chatty seagulls, laid-back turtles and more.
Now, Pixar’s back at it with their new movie Finding Dory, which follows the lovable blue tang as she searches the ocean for family. Just as Finding Nemo introduced us to a wide variety of memorable sea creatures, the sequel promises an equally engaging cast of characters.
It’s not often that we get to see ocean animals on the big screen, so we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate. Here are some fun facts about the species featured in the movie (in theaters now!)
I looked up just as the water above me darkened. Within an arm’s length, a massive whale shark passed over my head, its tail methodically propelling it forward. I caught its improbably small eye looking intently at me as it glided past. Directly behind came a second whale shark and then another.
But I wasn’t swimming in the ocean – I was 30 feet below the surface, at the bottom of the 6.3 million gallon Ocean Voyager exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium. As a marine scientist, I’ve logged a lot of dives in places from tropical reefs to temperate kelp forests. But I’d never been this up close and personal with the world’s biggest fish. In the wild, whale sharks can grow to 40 feet and nearly 50,000 pounds; those at the Georgia Aquarium are a relatively “small” 25 feet in length.
In June of 2013 the international body that manages tuna fish in the Eastern Pacific Ocean drafted and approved a resolution to protect whale sharks. The resolution isn’t groundbreaking; the New York Times didn’t report, Anderson Cooper wasn’t on the scene, and Greenpeace didn’t raise the flag. In fact, in the year it took to make U.S. compliance official via rulemaking in September 2014, even the fish-heads and whale shark lovers here at Ocean Conservancy barely noticed. This is a good thing.
Too often fisheries management is mired in relatively small, but high-profile, fights. The fact that the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) quietly prohibited tuna fishermen, who hail from many nations around the Pacific, from using whale sharks as de facto Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) marks another small but important step towards saving some of the world’s most iconic species and preserving a healthy ocean.
Dr. Hoffmayer and a whale shark in the Gulf of Mexico. [Photo: Jim Franks]
(This blog is part of a series of interviews with scientists who are championing marine research in the Gulf of Mexico.)
A preeminent whale shark expert and ecophysiologist, Dr. Eric R. Hoffmayer is a research fishery biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Mississippi Laboratories. His interest in coastal shark species ranges from their reproduction and life history to their specific abundance, distribution and feeding ecology in nursery grounds. He has pursued a particular interest in the Gulf of Mexico’s whale sharks, the largest fish in the ocean, compiling information on their basic biology, habitat use and movement patterns.
Ocean Conservancy: How much is known generally about the whale sharks found in the Gulf of Mexico? What is the size of the population?
Dr. Hoffmayer: Ironically, even though whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean, we still know so little about them, specifically here in the Gulf of Mexico. We know from our research efforts, as well as from research efforts of our colleagues in the southern Gulf, that whale sharks are relatively common in the Gulf. Unfortunately, due to their highly migratory nature and preference for offshore habitats, we still do not have a good population estimate for this region. However, colleagues working in the southern Gulf have estimated that between 500 and 900 individuals occur off the Yucatan Peninsula. In the northern Gulf, whale sharks occur along the continental shelf edge from Brownsville, Texas, to the Florida Keys and commonly occur off the mouth of the Mississippi River.
“SHARK!” Does the word conjure up images of a fin slicing toward you in the open ocean or on the edge of your seat completely absorbed in one of the year’s best television specials?
In preparation for Shark Week, which starts this Sunday, we’ve put together a roundup of some of our best shark blog posts from the past year:
What’s Your Shark IQ? How much do you think you know about sharks? Before taking a deep dive into the world of these complex creatures, test your basic knowledge with our short quiz. Do you know which shark swims the fastest?