Whale Shark Mexico is project of research, conservation, education and sustainable management of the charismatic whale sharks, within the non-profit organization ConCiencia Mexico. Since 2003, whale shark research has been conducted in the Gulf of California and surrounding areas. This is one of the few places in the world where whale sharks can be found as both juveniles and pregnant females. Whale Shark Mexico is proud to be responsible for a continuous monitoring program on the distribution and abundance of the species in the Gulf of California, for it has generated collaborative networks involving local communities in monitoring of the species. Our mission is to facilitate conservation through research, environmental education and sustainable management of the species.
Whale Shark Mexico is comprised of 3 areas: research, sustainable management and environmental education.
Research. Since 2003 we have conducted research of whale sharks in the Gulf of California and surrounding areas: La Paz Bay, Los Cabos and Revillagigedo Archipelago. We also work together local community groups from Bahía de Los Angeles (Pejesapo group) and Nayarit (Chacon group) and with the University of Nayarit, to share data in order to increase the knowledge of the migratory species in the Gulf of California. We have recently begun studying whale shark in Peru, through a collaboration with Ecocéanica Peru and support a tagging program in Utila in Hondura, this in collaboration with Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center and Liquid Robotics.
We currently have several lines of research involving a 3 students. For the study we use different tools:
- The photo-identification technique for conducting population studies as an estimate of abundance, analysis of fidelity and movements between locations.
- The satellite tagging to know the movements of whale sharks once they leave the areas of aggregation.
- Analysis of lesions on sharks, which we evaluate each season for the managements of the species.
- This year we started the assessment of behavioral changes when whale sharks are in the presence of people and tourism. This study includes the use of drones and cameras on whale shark’s dorsal fins to monitor the sharks.
- Analysis of the effects of contaminants such a pesticides and leather microplastics on the whale shark.
- Economic valuation of species and tourist satisfaction in the service of tourism with the species.
- Carrying capacity study. The maximum number of people that may visit the whale sharks in La Paz Bay at the same time, without causing negative effect on the whale sharks and maintaining a the quality of visitors’ satisfaction.
Environmental education. For Whale Shark Mexico, environmental education is key to the conservation of a threatened species like whale sharks. Therefore, every year we participate in several presentations at all school levels, from kindergartenthrough high school and for the general public, giving talks at convention centers, museums, cafes and restaurants, among others. We carry out various activities using whale shark models, sculptures, paintings or paint stories as teaching materials in our presentations (Figure 1).
In collaboration with Ecology Project International and Panterra Expeditions, each year we integrate in our monitoring young school of the City of La Paz and Canada, where young people receive a presentation on the species before participating in research., They learn the importance of research and conservation of whale sharks and their habitat, then accompany whale shark researchers in their activities.
In order to support the monitoring, we do research trips involving tourists and volunteers, where we educate and raise awareness of people about the whale shark, the ocean conservation and the importance of research. Within the volunteer program we have received, for up to 3 months, people from Italy, Canada, United States, Australia, India, Peru, France and Mexico. These people are integrated into our research project, we train them in monitoring the population involved and in the creation of database and education events.
Conservation and Managements. Our research data has been used to strengthen the management and conservation of the species in Mexico.
- Since 2006, together with the government, we generate the management plan for the activity of observation and swimming with the species.
- Since 2009, in collaboration with the government, every year we train service providers on the whale shark, the importance of conservation and the rules of observing and swimming with the species.
- To spread the rules for watching and swimming with whale sharks to private boats, informative screens were placed in the major marinas of La Paz and in the water park The Coromuel.
- During the monitoring activities, informational materials were also distributed to private boats.
- We have produced an informative video about the rules which is distributed among providers to use it as material support with tourists
- We participate in generating the Program of Action for the Conservation of the species (PACE Whale Shark).