Thousands of people around the world are lending a hand to help save the world’s biggest fish. By taking photos of whale sharks, these “citizen scientists” are providing researchers with critical information about the giant sharks’ population hotspots and migration routes.
Whale sharks are endangered, with estimates suggesting populations worldwide have plummeted by more than 50% over the past 75 years. Although they are protected in many countries, whale sharks are still killed by the fishing industry – caught deliberately for their fins (shark fin soup is a delicacy in parts of Asia) and as accidental bycatch, especially in tuna fishing areas where whale sharks and tuna swim close together. Whale sharks are also threatened by oil and gas drilling, vessel strikes and climate change.
The world’s biggest fish, whale sharks are endangered by human activity, including fishing, oil and gas drilling and climate change.
To help protect the species, Australian marine biologist Brad Norman co-founded The Wildbook for Whale Sharks, a photo identification database that went online in 2003.
Members of the public, scientists and whale shark tour operators around the world contribute photos of whale sharks to the system, which uses NASA technology to map their locations and track their movements. Today, the database holds over 70,000 submissions from more than 50 countries — making it one of the biggest crowd-sourced conservation projects in the world.