East African Whale Shark Trust
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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Click on the questions to see the answers below
1. What is a whale shark?
2. Are they dangerous?
3. How should I approach one?
4. Why did you start the trust?
5. Who are your trustees?
6. What have you achieved so far?
7. What are your current projects?
8. How do I volunteer?
What is a whale shark? The whale shark is the largest fish in the world, measuring up to 18 metres and weigh up to 20 tons. It feeds on platonic creatures and small fish, and has only tiny teeth. Like all sharks, it is cartilaginous rather than bony. It is easily identified by its huge size, many spots, and flattish front end. It can be found in tropical waters worldwide, and is sought after by divers visiting Ningaloo Reef in Australia, the Burma Banks near Thailand, on the south coast of the Kenyan reef and remote islands in the eastern Pacific such as Isla del Coco (Costa Rica) and the Galapagos archipelago (Ecuador). It is generally considered not to be a threat to swimmers and divers. In some parts of the world it is well protected, while in some areas of Malaysia and Indonesia it is hunted (harpooned) for its fins and meat. Whale sharks give birth to live young - recently a pregnant female was harpooned bearing 300 embryos of which 15 were alive.
Are they dangerous?
How should I approach one?

Even though whale sharks are passive and gentle creatures, it is important to remember certain rules when interacting with them.
1. Never touch the sharks.
2. Maintain minimum distances as shown on the accompanying illustration:4 metres from the tail and 3 meters from the head and body.
3. Avoid flash photography and underwater scooters.
4. Limit interaction time to 30 minutes for a single shark and total interaction time to 1 hour. It's important to follow these rules, both for your own sake and for the sharks. If these rules are broken, the shark is likely to become annoyed and engage in defensive behaviour.
Defensive behaviour includes:
Eye rolling
Banking
Diving
Tail-slapping

A shark that does not exhibit any of these behaviours is likely to stay in the area for much longer. If the shark continues to feed while there are divers in the water, this is the best sign that the shark is not bothered. It is also an amazing photo-opportunity!

Why did you start the trust?

Based on Diani beach, the EAWST was founded in 2005 in response to the increase in the whale shark population along the Kenyan coast as well as increased interest from the tourist sector. Peak season for whale shark sighting is between November and March. In the recent years there has been a significant increase in whale shark sightings along the Kenyan coast. There is a clear pattern of daily whale shark sightings emerging all year round with peak season being between the months of November to April. Whereas 10 years ago 20 whale sharks would be sighted in a year, it is now not uncommon to see 20 a day during the “whale shark” season. It is unknown at present whether the increase in whale sharks is due to the congested shipping lanes between South Africa, Madagascar and the Seychelles or due to the increase of mantis shrimp. It is clear however that there are many more whale sharks along the south coast of Kenya, in particular off Chale island and further that they are under threat from the local fishermen.
The increase in the number of whale sharks along the south coast of Kenya has meant that they have become a target. All that is required by international law is that whale shark trade be monitored. The EAWST provide a research centre for collecting and analyzing data on the local whale shark population, its habits and movements. The Trust works hand in hand with other regional organizations, the ultimate aim being to increase protection afforded to the biggest fish in the ocean and promote the conservation of the biggest fish in the ocean.

What have you achieved so far?

• The trust was well-represented at the International Whale Shark Conference in Perth, Australia in May 2005. Contacts were made and Kenya was firmly placed on the global whale shark map.
• Our website is up and is regularly updated with our activities and news.
• Researchers from the Hubbs Seaworld Research Institute in San Diego, California, US visited the EAWST headquarters in Aqualand Watersports Centre on Galu Kinondo beach to initiate a satellite tagging programme in November 2005.
• Film teams from Germany and Sweden visited the EAWST to film documentaries in November and December 2005. Follow up visits were completed in February 2006.
• A children’s book on the whale shark is in draft awaiting illustration.
• Our founder took the King of Sweden on a whale shark safari in December 2005 and the Royal family swam with a 9 metre whale shark for over an hour. Needless to say they were overwhelmed by the experience and they have pledged their support to the trust.
• A fundraising movie night held at the Nyali cinemax in March 2006 was a huge success with the local schools and the local press.
• A gala dinner was held on the ferry on 29 April 2006
• Our souvenirs are available in various outlets.
•We made history in tagging the 17 sharks with satellite tags in February 08. This is the highest number ever to be tagged in one place at one time and we did it!!
•We attended the 2nd International Whale Shark Conference in Mexico in July 08 and were the talk of the conference.
•We will put out Kenya's first acoustic array in February 09 together with the WCS www.meganet.org

Home News Goals Projects
& Volunteering
Frequently Asked Questions
CONTACT
nimu@giantsharks.org        +254720293156
East African Whale Shark Trust, Galu Kinondo Beach, PO Box 933, Ukunda 80400, Kenya

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