Kwale whale shark project based on bad science

Saturday April 6 2013

David Obura. Photo/FILE

David Obura. Photo/FILE 

By David Obura

Kenya has a special and little known treasure, its whale sharks. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world, a magnificent spectacle increasingly attracting divers and tourists. And unlike real sharks, they don’t attack humans.

Now a project in Waa, Kwale district — proposed by the Seaquarium and the East Africa Whale Shark Trust (EAWST), both having a common director — aims to “conserve” whale sharks by capturing them and keeping them in captivity in a “viewing enclosure” over a coral bottom just 10 metres deep.

The two bodies make an unsubstantiated claim that whale shark numbers are declining in Kenya due to fishing, but their proposed solution would itself severely disrupt the whale sharks’ existence and by extension their population.

The EAWST’s own research shows that Kenyan whale sharks swim as far as the Seychelles, Tanzania and Mozambique, within a season. Whale sharks can regularly dive to depths of over 1,000 metres.

Imagine a similar project on land — a tourism operator in Narok proposes to catch two elephants from the plains around the Maasai Mara, drag them behind a truck by a leash tied to one foot, keep them in a small enclosure without any trees or shade, and exchange them every six months for another pair.

Their claim to expertise is their experience in game watching and basic observations of the elephants. Since the elephants will be kept outside, they are “in their natural environment.”

The project proposal misrepresents or misinterprets scientific information, or just leaves it out altogether.

The EAWST claims a decline in whale shark numbers and blames Bajuni fishermen. Large migratory animals can vary greatly in number from year to year.

The EAWST first started due to a massive increase in whale shark