Currently visiting the Island are Dr Alistair Dove, Director of Research and Conservation at the Georgia Aquarium, USA, and Rafael de la Parra, Executive Director, Ch’ooj Ajauil AC (The Blue Realm Project), Mexico.

Alistair and Rafael arrived on 3 January 2015 and are on-Island until Saturday, 17 January, with the goal to better understand how Whale Sharks use the habitat around St Helena, and in turn how St Helena fits into the Atlantic (and global) Whale Shark picture.

Alistair explains:

“The Atlantic is drastically understudied for Whale Sharks compared to the other oceans, and we are here to work with SHG and all interested Saints to help fix that.”

The work is a collaboration between ENRD, the Georgia Aquarium, Mote Marine Laboratory, Ch’ooj Ajauil, and the Marine Megafauna Foundation. This work is only possible with the help and active involvement of local stakeholders on St Helena such as fishermen, tour operators and naturalists.

Whale Shark in St Helena Waters
Whale Shark in St Helena Waters

Since their arrival to the Island the team have been working off the ‘Enchanted Isle’ every day, scanning the leeward side of the Island for Whale Sharks, gathering identification photographs (their spot patterns are unique) and attaching satellite tags to help identify what the sharks do when they leave St Helena.

Alistair added:

“St Helena is home to adult Whale Sharks of both sexes in reliable numbers, which is unusual in the world. In most places that have Whale Sharks, they are either male-dominated groups of juveniles, or occasional individual adults. This makes us think St Helena may be important for the reproductive cycle, which is a big deal because mating and birthing in this species have not been documented before.”

When they leave on Saturday, Alistair and Rafael will have a lot of work to do identifying Whale Sharks and extracting measurements from the photos taken. It will then be a waiting game until the satellite tags start to report in 6-12 months time.

Rafael concluded:

“It is simply a pleasure to be in such a strikingly unique place. The landscape and geology is spectacular and everyone we have met with has been super friendly and accommodating.

“St Helena’s marine life is stunning. As a marine biologist, the experience of putting your head underwater and recognising almost NONE of the species is an absolute pleasure. There are so many animals not found anywhere else – this really is the Galapagos of the Atlantic.

“We can’t wait to come back. With the help of the SHG and the St Helenian people, this has been an extraordinarily successful expedition!”

Both Alistair and Rafael are marine biologists interested in a wide range of marine animals, especially Whale Sharks, Manta Rays, Devil Rays, dolphins and whales. Alistair is from Australia but has lived in the US for 15 years. Rafael is from Mexico City and now lives in Cancun, Mexico.

SHG
13 January 2015

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