Whale Shark Endangered Off Kenyan Coast
Gentle Giant The Whale Shark is listed a Vulnerable on the Red List by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN notes commercial fishing is the primary cause of population depletion via “unregulated and unsustainable fisheries to supply international trade demands for shark fins, liver oil (used to waterproof wooden boats), skins, and meat” (per WWF). This largest fish species can reach a length of 18 meters (59 feet), weigh 20+ tons, and may live 100 to 150 years. The Whale Shark is far-ranging, traveling thousands of kilometers, and is found worldwide in tropical and temperate waters (see map below). This gentle giant feeds on zooplankton and is known as a “filter feeder” which sieves food plus feeds on small crustaceans and schooling fishes. As part of this filter feeding, a Whale Shark may process 6,000 liters of water an hour through its gills.
Endangered Off Kenyan Coast Although commercial fishing has depleted populations worldwide, a recent drop in Whale Shark sightings in East Africa is of concern. In response, the East African Whale Shark Trust is tagging Whale Sharks for monitoring. The species is not protected under Kenyan law. Demand for the Whale Sharks’ liver for waterproofing wooden boats is taking a toll on the species in Kenya. The East African Whale Shark Trust has begun an education effort in schools by organizing wildlife clubs to promote safeguarding the Whale Shark.
Whale Shark in Danger Off the East African Coast May 19 – The whale shark is the largest living fish species and is usually found in tropical and warm oceans. This gentle giant is not dangerous to humans but demand for its internal organs is putting it in grave danger. Esther Karanja reports.
Whale Shark Worldwide Distribution
Map courtesy of IUCN