STRANDED WHALE SHARK

December 23, 2010 by dyertrust

Once again, our team was called into action on the 23rdDecember 2010, to attend a stranding this time for a particularly unique animal. Was it a whale? Was it a shark? Both!

A 6.0-6.5 meter maleWhale sharkwashed ashore nearPearly Beach. Whale sharks do not normally occur in these waters because they prefer warm tropical waters such as Mozambique and Madagascar, not the frigid waters ofGansbaai!

Even though they have impressive jaws, their mouths are full of barely visible teeth. Whale sharks feed on plankton hence the name whale shark - and are not dangerous to humans (only krill!). We cannot say for certain how the shark ended up in our waters, but it could have something to do with the algae blooms we have been seeing the past week. Potentially, the shark may have been following these blooms into our area and got caught in the colder waters. Once there, it was only a matter of time before the shark was cooled below its tolerance level and wave action brought him to shore.

The shark showed many signs of life despite its physical appearance and wounds from being on the rough sand. Our team got the whale shark back into the water with the help of many locals and volunteers and two Landrovers. Once in the water, the whale shark maintained its orientation in the swells and seemed to show signs of improvement. We assembled our research vessel Lwazi and (with much difficulty in the breakers of Pearly Beach) attached the whale shark with ropes to Lwazi. They took the shark into deeper water and once there, the shark dove to the bottom. There have been no signs of the shark since. If only we had the resources available to place a satellite tag on the animal to track its movements and see what happens below the seas!

Thanks very much to Elrina Versveld of Pearly Beach Conservancy for informing us about the stranding!

Written by Michelle Wcisel

Whale shark update 29 December 2010

taking samples of washed up whale shark at Pearly BeachSadly, the whale shark washed up in the same area a week later. This time it did not make it so the team moved in to take some samples in the hope of better understanding the reasons for its stranding. The condition of the body seems to indicate that it probably survived a few more days after being returned to sea but the extreme cold water (around 11C), stress and lack of food would have taken their toll.

Although the rescue attempt was ultimately unsuccessful, it is a good learning curve for the team and always worth a try.

Update by Brenda Walters