Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are listed as Endangered [EN] on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List since 2016, and recently have been upgraded to Appendix I of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The Mozambique Channel, between Madagascar and Mozambique, is a global hotspot for these threatened sharks. Unfortunately, observations from fishery observers on tuna fishing vessels found that a steep decline in sightings within the Channel took place between 2000 and 2007, the last year for which data were published, compared to the previous decade. A 79% decline in sightings was also documented between 2005 and 2011 (and has persisted to 2016) in southern Mozambique. Based on these results, whale shark conservation status in the Indian Ocean has recently been downgraded to “Endangered”.
Nevertheless, a significant ‘hotspot’ for the species has recently been identified off northwestern Madagascar, with regular reports of whale shark sightings being noted from Nosy Be since 2007 and a growing tourism industry based around these sharks. A single local tourism operator documented over 200 whale shark sightings in Nosy Be in late 2015, so it is likely that this area is a relatively important hotspot for the species on a global level.
Yet no work has been undertaken to establish population size, trend or connectivity with other regional aggregations. Whale sharks also lack protection in Madagascar, so our results will inform the development of effective local conservation and tourism management initiatives. The Madagascar Whale Shark Project will provide the first baseline population abundance for whale sharks in North-West Madagascar. Obtaining data on the number of sharks present, how they are using the site and habitat, and local stakeholder perceptions of any variation in sightings will provide the basic information necessary for engagement with managers and policy makers.
For detailed and most up-to-date information about whale shark biology, ecology and conservation have a look at the 2016 IUCN Red List assessment for the species page.