There are about 500 whale sharks in Indian waters and most of them are spotted on the coast of Gujarat.
In an effort to develop whale shark tourism on the coast of Gujarat, the state forest department is planning to implement the Australian system of locating them by using plane and expert spotters in the sea.
“Australia has developed a kind of system in which they use airplanes and expert spotters to identify places where the whale shark are present at that stage in the sea which is very effective,” Principal chief conservator of forests of Gujarat Pradeep Khanna said.
A scheduled I animal under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, there are about 500 whale sharks in Indian waters and most of them are spotted largely on the coast of Gujarat.
A team of state forest department, headed by Mr. Khanna along with representative of NGO, Wildlife Trust of India, had gone to Australia recently to study satellite tagging of whale shark and also to learn about tourism concerning the mammal to help kick-start a similar process at home.
“We liked the system developed by Australia and it can be implemented here,” Mr. Khanna said adding “but for it, pilot and spotters are required to be trained.”
Tourists can be guided to those areas where whale sharks are found by spotters, he said.
“Australia has shown deep interest in developing ties with India for whale shark conservation, satellite tagging and development of tourism related to the mammal,” Mr. Khanna said.
“We have to work out a system on how we will go about it, will pilots and spotters be trained in India by calling experts from Australia or should we sent them there,” he said.
Earlier, fishermen at the Gujarat coast used to hunt whale shark, an 8 to 12 meter long unique fish. However, by sustained efforts of various NGOs, state government and religious leaders, the fishermen have stopped hunting them.
“Our sustained campaign has helped in conservation of whale shark with the co-operation of fishermen as they have stopped hunting them. Conservation of whale shark is more about creating awareness and convincing the fishermen and not much of policing, as it is not possible in mid-sea,” Mr. Khanna said.
The Union environment ministry recently gave a nod to satellite tag individuals of the whale shark and collected tissue samples for their genetic analysis.
“There is not enough knowledge about whale shark. The efforts to satellite tag them will help us track their movement in the sea,” Mr. Khanna said.
“We are in the process of procuring satellite tags and will soon be initiating genetic analysis of individual whale sharks as well,” said Dhiresh Joshi, Co-ordinator, Wildlife Trust of India.
However, Mr. Khanna said that while satellite tagging of whale sharks will give us more knowledge about them, it will not be very useful in the development of tourism related to them.