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Whale shark pup sighted and freed 20kms off Sutrapada coast of Gujarat

Veraval (Gujarat): A new-born whale shark pup was recently spotted and freed by fishermen in Gujarat, after being found caught in a fishing net. The pup sighting suggests that the world's largest fish may be breeding off the coast of Gujarat.



The whale shark conservation campaign established in 2004 advocated the release of trapped whale sharks and educated the locals and fishermen of its existence and docile nature. This resulted in freeing of more than 350 whale sharks – the gentle giants – locally known as Vhali, by the fishermen in the Saurashtra region along the coastline of Gujarat.

The rescue of the whale shark pup took place around 20km off the Sutrapada coast and was reported to the Whale Shark Conservation Project team by Mohan Beem Solanki, a local fisherman from Sutrapada. The rescued whale shark was around 60cm long, which is the expected size of a month or two-month old pup.

Commenting on the rescue, Prof BC Choudhury, senior advisor, WTI, said, "We have been trying to understand ecology, behavior and migration of the whale sharks, after the successful whale shark campaign that convinced fishermen to release whale sharks caught in their nets. Now these fishermen are actually helping us out in a number of ways. Reporting such rescues itself gives us some valuable insights through circumstantial evidence," adding that research would eventually provide scientific evidence.

Dr Rachel Graham, a renowned whale shark expert and member of the scientific advisory committee of the project, said, "The sighting of a sub meter whale shark is very rare. This particular pup looks like it was most likely born this year and this capture off the coast of Gujarat further suggests that whale sharks could be pupping in this area."

Alka Talwar, head of community development at Tata Chemicals, said, "It's exciting for us to notice the presence of a whale shark pup, as this indicates that whale sharks feel at home and are comfortable breeding here on the shores of Gujarat. The Tata group has always been on the forefront, when it comes to caring for the environment and has endeavoured to sensitise people by educating them about these endangered species. Tata Chemicals believes in improving the quality of life of the local community and at the same time maintaining bio-diversity standards. The sighting of the whale shark pup shows us that we are in the right direction of ensuring just that."

The Whale Shark Conservation Project, a joint venture of the Gujarat Forest Department, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and Tata Chemicals (TCL) established a marine conservation centre to carry out research on the mighty fish along Gujarat's coast since 2008. There is a greater emphasis on research to understand the whale shark better. Tools such as satellite tagging and aerial surveys were setup to generate more information about the annual migration and breeding habits of this gigantic creature. All these inputs are used to strengthen the save the whale shark campaign. The collaboration has converted hunters into protectors and changed the fate of the whale shark from a fish that was cruelly hunted to one that is now cherished as a beloved daughter that visit the shores to breed.