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Expedition Week: Whale Shark Research in St Helena Al Dove 

Expedition Week: Whale Sharks in St Helena

March 1, 2016

In December 2015, four Georgia Aquarium team members embarked on a whale shark research expedition to the remote island of St. Helena to better understand the mysteries of the world's largest fish - how and where they mate. During that four-week expedition, a multitude of research tags were deployed, countless whale sharks spotted, unique marine life discovered and many stories born. Over the next five days, our Georgia Aquarium St. Helena team will be sharing their experiences with you, our fans, as part of our St. Helena Expedition Week blog series. Enjoy!

You may ask what a team from Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is doing visiting St. Helena, one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. In a word, or two words really, it’s whale sharks. At Georgia Aquarium we are lucky to have four whale sharks in the collection and over the last ten years we have been able to share this incredible species with over 20 million guests. We also conduct research and conservation programs to support that mission of inspiring the public through the animals in our care. In the case of whale sharks, that means going to some very special places to study whale sharks in their natural setting, using techniques that we have learned in the aquarium to enhance field research, and bringing what we learn in the field back to Atlanta to improve animal care methods in the Aquarium.

Whale shark tracking tagSt. Helena has only recently come to scientific attention as an important habitat for whale sharks, and with the help of the Darwin Initiative and our partners in the St. Helena Government, Mote Marine Laboratory, Ch'ooj Ajauil AC and the Marine Megafauna Foundation, Georgia Aquarium is excited to help study our flagship species in this most extraordinary location. We think St. Helena might play a very special role as a mating ground for whale sharks, and that’s really important, because mating has so far not been documented in this species, which is pretty remarkable given that we’re talking about the world’s largest fish.

The main goal of our expedition is to characterize the whale sharks of St. Helena, how they use the island and where they go when they leave. To do that, we’ll use a range of techniques including computer-aided photographic identification, laser calipers to measure their size, and several different types of tracking tags (shown above) so that we might work out where they come from and where they go. Who knows, if we’re really lucky, maybe we’ll get a chance to document mating behavior in the world’s biggest fish. Wouldn’t THAT be amazing?

Written by: Dr. Al Dove, Director of Research and Conservation

Continue to follow the St. Helena Expedition blog series online: 

  • Follow Georgia Aquarium on InstagramTwitter and Facebook with hashtag #GAExpeditionWeek
  • Follow Dr. Dove on Twitter and Instagram
  • Follow @Wheres_Domino on Twitter and keep up with a tagged whale shark, live-tweeting its way across the ocean.
  • Stay tuned into the blog for the next Expedition Week story


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