The Peculiar Whale Sharks of Indonesia
The October issue of National Geographic magazine (on newsstands Sept. 27) will feature a spectacular photo gallery of whale sharks acting rather peculiarly: they are interacting with fishermen. From my experience in Honduras, these mostly filter-feeding behemoths generally do not like to interact with people, and noisy boats and swimmers quickly scare them away.
Here’s a nice excerpt on this exception from the accompanying article:
Whale sharks are ordinarily loners. But not in one corner of Indonesia. The photographs on these pages, shot some eight miles off the province of Papua, reveal a group of sharks that call on fishermen each day, zipping by one another, looking for handouts near the surface, and nosing the nets—a rare instance when the generally docile fish act, well, like the rest of the sharks.
The story goes on to tell that fishermen go so far as feed the whale sharks snacks to keep them from nibbling on their nets, as seen in the excellent photo gallery. Again, it’s worth checking out here.
It seems the fishermen have developed a friendly relationship with the whale sharks, which is encouraging for this species classified as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List and whose populations continue to decline.
As pointed out the powerful documentary, Shores of Silence, whale sharks are hunted in the Indian Ocean to sell on the Asian shark fin market. In Singapore, a set of whale shark fins sells for about $500 (U.S.). While in China, a set of large fins can sell for more than $10,000.