x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 December 2017

Conservation issues emerge after whale shark sightings

Regular sightings of a whale shark in Dubai Marina this week have brought the issue of marine conservation in the Arabian Gulf sharply into focus.

DUBAI // Regular sightings of a whale shark in Dubai Marina this week have brought the issue of marine conservation in the Arabian Gulf sharply into focus.

Questions abound as to why the harmless and rare three-metre-long whale shark continued cruising around the marina after it was first spotted on Thursday.

Marine experts from The Lost Chambers aquarium at Atlantis The Palm have suggested the plankton-eating animal has chosen the warm coastal waters of the south-east Gulf to search for food, or may have been attracted to the shoreline by a high tide.

The shark seen at Marina Walk has attracted huge publicity on social media and now has its own spoof Twitter page with almost 600 followers. “It’s very important we try to focus on preserving the local marine species of the UAE, in particular sharks,” said Natasha Christie, director of The Lost Chambers, who has been working to raise awareness of the plight of whale sharks.

“We need to celebrate the native species of the UAE and we are proud of the work we do here in ensuring the general public learn to not fear sharks but to celebrate their existence.

“Ignorance spreads fear and fear breeds hate, which ultimately results in the unnecessary death of these beautiful creatures.”

The whale shark seen in the marina appears to be a juvenile, because it is only a few metres in length. Adults can grow as long as 14 metres and weigh about 30 tonnes.

The public has been reminded to keep its distance from the shark and not to cause it distress. Shark photographer Andy Murch, who gives presentations on Dubai’s shark population at Atlantis The Palm, said just 10 out of the 500 known species were thought to be dangerous.

“While there are almost certainly no great white sharks cruising off the UAE, about 29 species of sharks can still be found swimming in Dubai waters,” he said.

“These include hammerheads, white cheek, tiger, grey reef and the carpenter shark, which is a huge member of the ray family which is critically endangered but still populating these waters.

“Shark numbers have been reduced to a tiny fraction of what they once were. We must save them for future generations.”

nwebster@thenational.ae