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2013 – An End of a Successful Season

The 2013 whale shark research season has come to a close for the Qatar Whale Shark Research Project (QWSRP) and, like last season, the achievements have exceeded our expectations. This season we managed to launch 12 highly successful one day trips to the Al Shaheen field (ALS) the team managed to deploy satellite tags, acoustic receivers, acoustic tags, collect tissue samples and record many identification photos of individual sharks. The project has now identified more than 400 sharks and many of them are registered in the global data base (www.whaleshark.org).

While whale sharks have been studied for decades in other regions the recently documented aggregation in ALS has only effectively been studied for two years. Taking into account that ALS is located approximately 80 km from the coast of Qatar makes this achievement even more noticeable.

Again this year the sharks appeared in late April and disappeared in early October. The massive amount of fish eggs that are produced in this period, primarily by the mackerel tuna, is thought to be the primary reason for the sharks aggregating in such large numbers.

Acoustic receivers that were deployed around the platforms earlier in the year continuously monitored our tagged sharks throughout the season. As before, the consistent reporting of whale shark sightings by the Maersk Oil offshore workers has proven extremely valuable for validating data and guiding the team to locate the sharks in the field. Majority of sightings were reported between May and September, with more than 450 sightings in May and about 400 in September.  All observations indicate that some of the sharks spend several months in the Al Shaheen area making it one of their most important feeding grounds in the Arabian Gulf.

The discovery of this large aggregation has not gone unnoticed within the research community. In 2013 the BBC broadcasted their Wild Arabia TV-series containing a 10-minute sequence of the expedition that was conducted by the QWSRP in 2012. The project then launched a movie called “A Gathering of Giants” on the new website www.qatarwhalesharkproject.com. Later in 2013 the BBC Radio followed up with program about the oil industry and the effects on the environment using the whale sharks in ALS as an example on how offshore platforms can have a positive impact on biodiversity (www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/galleries/p01d3rhp). And finally, some of the projects findings were presented to the international research community at the Third International Whale Shark Conference held in October in Atlanta, Georgia (https://www.facebook.com/iwsc3).

                 Ministry of Environment staff preparing the speed boat before the trip to Al Shaheen
                                                 (Left: Ahmed Ali Al-Kuwari, Right: Fahad Salem)

The QWSRP would like to thank all the people that have been part of the 2013 season. A special thank you goes to the Ministry of Environment Department in Al Ruwais; their boat and crew have been and continue to be instrumental in the success of the project. With temperatures exceeding 45 degrees in the summer  this is no job for the faint-hearted.

We expect that 2014 will give us an even better understanding of the ecology of the whale sharks that frequent Qatari waters and there is a new TV-series about these amazing animals already in the making so continue to stay tuned…