International Whale Shark Day!
My introduction to the ocean happened before I can remember, as did my connection to it. Since childhood, the ocean has retained its magic and constant fascination for me. I have been in thrall to it my entire life. Of course, that goes for the marine life that lives there as well. A day like Whale Shark Day is always a celebration of life.
I grew up on Jacques Cousteau and I dreamed of someday doing the SCUBA he invented. When I was asked, hey, want to try scuba diving? I didn’t hesitate. That was in Cozumel, Mexico, and after my first dive I knew I had found a passion for life. Since that day I have traveled the planet, thrilling to the underwater world. I love everything under the waterline, but I confess to having a special feeling for a few over and above the rest. One of those species is the Whale Shark. Happy Whale Shark Day!
To see a fish the size of a city bus, a shark, in the water is exciting. Whale Sharks feed on the surface, filter feeding on plankton, krill and other goodies in the water. They blend in so beautifully, and are very quiet and gentle. To be in the water with these splendid creatures is a rare privilege. Swimming with whale sharks has become very popular in several locations. I am glad people are interested in them and helping in their conservation. I wish all locations would take precautions and treat the animals with the respect they deserve. Not all places do.
Whale Sharks are huge. Full grown adults can grow up to 60 feet long. I’ve seen both adults and juveniles and find them all engaging and fascinating to watch. Whale Shark Day is a day we need to think about what humans are doing to them, and how we can save the species. They are on the ICUN Red List (endangered), and CITES lists them as endangered as well. One needs to be cautious because of the size of these animals, but Whale Sharks do not harm humans. Unfortunately, humans do not return the favor.
On this Whale Shark Day we need to focus on the need to protect our oceans and our pelagic species. Without the ocean, there won’t be life on earth, and that includes us. The Marine Megafauna Foundation works to save many pelagic species, and one of the founding scientists, Dr Simon Pierce, studies Whale Sharks exclusively. I was introduced to the foundation and its two original founders, Simon Pierce and Andrea Marshall, Queen of Mantas, through a BBC documentary called Queen of Mantas. It inspired me to go to Mozambique to work with Whale Sharks. I support the foundation through donations, expeditions, and my book sales (check out ALL FISH FACES, 10% goes to Marine Megafauna). I have enjoyed several expeditions and dive trips to help with photo ID’s and observation. I’m headed out with Andrea again in January 2020, an expedition is headed out to the Coral Sea to observe and photograph Manta Rays. (I have covered many of these expeditions right here on Travels with Tam!)
Whale Shark populations have been more than halved in the last 75 years. They are killed for their fins to suppoly Shark Fin Soup, which is really just chicken soup with shark fibers. Yuck. The biggest threat is the loss of habitat, overfishing, coastal development, and land-based pollution like plastic, plastic and plastic. Also there is more boat traffic, and still those who fish meat and fins. The challenges are many, but every single person on this planet can help. Climate Change is causing major upheaval in our oceans, and we are dependent on the ocean for life itself. The next ten years will tell us whether the ocean will continue to sustain life. “As a species, our survival is dependent on our oceans being healthy and full of life, yet only four percent are currently protected. This means that vast areas are left unregulated and vulnerable to ever-increasing human pressures such as unsustainable fishing, irresponsible waste management and climate change.” — Marine Megafauna Foundation.
“The whale shark is the biggest fish and shark in the world. These gentle marine giants roam the oceans around the globe, generally alone. However, large numbers of whale sharks often gather in areas with abundant plankton food—making them prime tourist attractions.The distribution of whale sharks indicates the presence of plankton and the overall health of our oceans.” World Wildlife Foundation
What can you do to help on Whale Shark Day? Just start with one thing, and make your changes for every single day not just one day!
Use less plastic and Recycle what you use. There is too much plastic on this planet. Our ocean life is inundated with plastic, and you can see the results. Animals and birds and mammals are washing ashore, dead because of the plastic in their systems. In addition, our food sources are ingesting microplastics. Did you know the average human in western society eat the equivalent of one credit card a week??? Plastic kills. We must do our individual best to reduce it.
Eat Less Meat. If we all would reduce our consumption of beef, pork, and poultry by a quarter and substituted plant proteins, which is so easy today, we’d save about 82 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. Just go meatless two or three meals a week! Even Burger King now serves the Impossible Burger!
Eat only sustainable fish. How do you know if the fish you are eating is sustainably caught? The best tool is the Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch app. It will tell you, depending upon location and type of fish, what is sustainable, what has too much mercury, and what is least harmful for our oceans and our bodies.
Reduce your carbon footprint. The emission of greenhouse gases is warming our oceans to a dangerous degree. We are seeing our oceans warm too much to sustain coral in many locations, and the byproduct of the pollution is causing Ocean Acidification. Coral Reefs support 25% of all marine life, we cannot afford to lose them.
Talk about it. Talk about it! Learn about it. Share in the global conversation and educate yourself on these issues. Tell your friends and family and use social media to help raise awareness. Your grandchildren will thank you.
Elect Leaders who support science. There isn’t anything more important in combating Climate Change. Other areas in our lives have suffered as well, for instance illnesses, medications, our food safety, our very food supply. Learn about the importance of using science in our government.
Have you ever snorkeled with Whale Sharks, or seen one on a dive? It is magical. Please follow the rules, and enjoy one of the best experiences of your life. Remember, International Whale Shark Day is every day!
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