The Shark Project In Madagascar
An incredible woman, Stella, decided to quit her job to start ‘The Shark Project’ and she has achieved enormous strides in the marine science world. She began her ‘shark journey’ in 2015 off of the Nosy Be shore and recently made headlines in the news with the favourite whale shark, Michel, returning to Nosy Be.
The BBC News reported that Madagascar emerges as the whale shark hotspot. “No one thought there were that many whale sharks,” said Stella Diamant. Whale sharks, which have unique spot patterns, are known locally as marokintana, meaning many stars.
Are whale sharks dangerous?
The whale shark (Rhincodon typus), the world’s largest fish, is classed as a globally endangered species on the IUCN RedList as their numbers have declined by more than 50% over the last 75 years.
The largest confirmed whale shark had a length of 13 metres (42 feet) and a weight of about 22 tons (47,000 pounds). The whale shark holds many records for size in the animal kingdom, most notably being by far the largest living non-mammalian vertebrate.
A whale shark is rarely found in water below 21 °C (70 °F) and can live up to 70 years old. They feed almost exclusively on plankton and are not known to pose any threat to humans.
Who is Michel the shark?
Stella has recently released photos of Michel the whale shark, who has now been sighted 38 times in Nosy Be since the project began in 2015. Michel can be identified by a missing tip of his tail. Though the whale shark season has only just begun in Madagascar, two of the eight sharks they tagged came back in 2016 and have already been seen back in Nosy Be this year.
Stella not only names all her sharks but also memorises their spot patterns by heart. Each one has little scars or distinctive dots, which makes it easier to recognise them once you train your eye: for example, Hydrus has a hidden infinity sign in his markings, Theodore has four dots in a line and Michel has a ‘pizza dot’.
Michel, tracking code MD-151, swum 2295 kilometres over 147 days after he was tagged, although he stayed in the North Western Madagascar area as seen on the pink track below.
When is whale shark season?
The whale shark season begins in September as the water is perfectly blue with 30 metres of visibility and rough, windy conditions.
Around mid-November the water warms, the wind drops and plankton builds up, with Trichodesmium blooms making big patches in the water.
What can you do to help protect these majestic animals?
Please use a sustainable seafood guide as recommended by the IUCN RedList
Be wary of squalene health capsules and cosmetics incorporating squalene as a moisturiser, if they have come from sharks.
Avoid buying shark teeth at the local markets.
Use responsible tourism operators when diving and snorkelling with sharks.
Here is a video to enjoy and learn more about these incredible docile creatures: Whale Sharks by WWF