the gentle giants
The whale sharks (rhincodon typus), belonging to the
but undoubtedly the gentlest and indeed the largest fish in
comes swimming all the way from the seas off the shores of Australia
to the coast of Saurashtra, Gujarat, between September and May,
to spawn in these waters.
For years, its size it can grow to over 50 feet in
length and weigh more than 10 tonnes and mellow temperament
made it an easy prey to fishermen who profited from them.
About as many as 1,200 whale sharks had been killed by fishermen
annually before 2001, when the Indian government banned the
fishing and trading of this fish that can have a lifespan
of 150 years. Not only was the whole fishing operation cruel
the fish being hooked with barrels tied to ropes to
keep them afloat but by not allowing the fish to breed,
the fishing endangered the survival of the species.
The 'Save the whale shark' campaign was launched, partnered
by Tata Chemicals, Gujarat Heavy Chemicals, Wildlife Trust
of India (WTI), the Coast Guard, the Indian Navy, the Ministry
of Environment and Reefwatch, under which, besides providing
financial assistance, volunteers created awareness in the
fishing community. Street plays, games, posters, inflated
shark flotillas, postage stamps and school art competitions
became grist for the mill in building awareness.
This is a stirring story about successfully building awareness
about the need to protect the whale shark. An initiative that
Tata Chemicals has partnered, and in recognition of which, they
were awarded the Green Governance award from the Bombay Natural
History Society in 2005.
The tide turned when the popular spiritual leader Morari
Bapuwas co-opted into the campaign, and he, in his discourses,
reminded the community of the age-old Indian tradition of
welcoming a 'daughter with child' into her parents' home to
The analogy melted people's hearts, and since then, the whale
shark has not just been welcomed on the shores of Saurashtra,
but also fiercely guarded with parentlike protectiveness.
Over 100 whale sharks have been released from fishing nets
to date, at great cost to the fishermen, since they have to
cut their nets in order to release the gentle giant of the
The locals who once referred to the fish as 'barrel' (being
the gear used to hunt the whale shark), now use an endearmen'vhali'
or 'dear one'. The municipalities of Porbunder, Diu, Dwarka
and Okha have adopted 'Vhali' as their mascot. Kartik,
the new moon day, an auspicious day in the Hindu calendar,
is celebrated as Vhali Day.
Whale shark watching is another area of interest. WTI expects
to place the coast of Gujarat on the map of whale shark enthusiasts.
The hope is that the fishermen, tempted by an additional livelihood,
will have a vested interest in keeping the fish alive for tourist
In November 2007, all the stakeholders WTI, Tata Chemicals,
National Institute of Oceanography, Gujarat forest department
and the fishing community involved in the awareness
campaign, identified the second phase of the project. As very
little is known about the fish, to ensure its survival, a
sum of Rs15 million ($320,000 or £190,000)1 has been
pledged over a period of five years. The research centre for
marine conservation is being established at Mithapur.
A sermon whose message has resonated on the deep seas has
helped save these leviathans, and the marine research will
now help preserve a flourishing marine ecosystem, of which
they are an integral part.
Exchange conversion as on November 19, 2009
Sourced from Tata Planet & People Initiatives
Published by Group Corporate Affairs Copyright Tata Sons Limited,