Update from the Field -- Afuera Whale Shark Expeditions
Normally I use this blog to explain other groups’ science, but there is cool science happening right here at SRI, and some of it takes place in the sparkling blue waters of the Mexican Caribbean. We’ve just wrapped up three whale shark research expeditions, focusing on photo-identification of these animals using their spot patterns. Our work in Mexico and elsewhere helps to build the Wildbook for Whale Sharks database, which allows researchers to track individual whale sharks as they migrate. All trip participants were treated to 200+ whale sharks in the waters off Cancun, and a lucky few also got to see large numbers of mantas, schools of devil rays, and even a few sailfish!
These whale shark research expeditions generated a huge amount of data that will take time to analyze, but even our early results show the value of photo-identification tracking. So far our photos have found one new shark not previously identified, always an exciting discovery; several sharks seen for the first time this year; three sharks not seen since 2017, and one shark not seen since 2016! We were happy to see MXA-1153, who was badly injured by a boat propeller in 2017, now showing a remarkably well-healed wound. Also exciting was this year’s first sighting of Rio Lady! A whale shark rock star, this mature female (unusual for the Afuera aggregation) made research fame when she traveled 7700 km from Mexico to the center of the Atlantic Ocean over 150 days while satellite tagged in 2007. Since her long return journey she has been a regular visitor to the Afuera aggregation site.
Intrigued by the opportunity to participate in research on these amazing animals? The next SRI whale shark expedition in December 2019 will study the juvenile sharks that aggregate in the Gulf of Tadjoura, off Djibouti, Africa. A few spaces remain for this week-long liveaboard trip to swim with whale sharks, assist with research on these super cool animals, and dive the pristine reefs of the Gulf of Tadjoura. Check our Expeditions page for more information.