The Utila Whale Shark Research Project has passed its initial five-year study of the population dynamics and ethology of the whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) that visit Utila. After the findings that have been made and discovered we have decided to carry this project on indefinitely as we have had some great success with movement patterns and population studies, Utila is an important link in the chain for whale shark studies in the Caribbean as whale sharks seen in Utila have also been seen in Belize, Mexico and the USA.
These amazing creatures can be seen year-round, however, they are most prevalent during the months of March through April. Using cutting-edge technology for photo-identification, the project is generating data that can be used for local population estimation as well as for broader studies throughout the Caribbean and the rest of the world. As a “threatened species”, we seek to understand our local whale shark population in order to better protect it. This requires solid science and a commitment to local conservation.
The Utila Whale Shark Research Project is managed locally by the staff of Deep Blue Resort, Utila, with assistance from some of the worlds best known whale shark researchers and data is collected from visiting divers, snorkelers, and from local fishermen. Data from the project is entered into the WildMe.org Whale Shark Photo-identification Library where it can be accessed by researchers all over the world.
Using the WildMe.org Library ensures that collected data is available locally and globally, and the open and visible nature of the database and its built-in email system ensures that contributors are informed of how their data is being used. Deep Blue Utila is committed to utilizing the best technologies and methodologies available while maintaining complete transparency and maximum safety, both for researchers and for the whale sharks, in data collection. Our objective is to make our project’s results available for local conservation efforts and to ensure their validity through peer review and publication.
Because we mainly use safe, non-invasive photo-identification, the Utila Whale Shark Research Project allows anyone visiting Utila or any other world location to collect whale shark data. It’s as simple as taking a photograph of the animal’s natural spot patterning behind the gills on the left side (primary patterning) and right side (secondary patterning). From the photographs, these spots are mapped into a database and pattern-recognition software scans for matches to previously identified animals or if it is a new shark that has not been identified before.
This data can be collected from a safe distance and without any harm to the shark. More importantly, photo-identification data is valuable far beyond the very limited time frame of conventional plastic tagging. The data you collect will help build “life histories” for each animal, and with an estimated life span of 60+ years, your data will have a long-term impact on global whale shark research and conservation