Because we use safe, mainly non-invasive photo-identification, the Utila Whale Shark Research Project allows anyone visiting Utila or any other dive place in the world 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, this software will send you emails about your shark, if it has been seen before you will receive its history and you will also be notified when your whale shark is seen again, it does not matter if it is 6 months time or 10 years time you will get notification, if the shark has never been seen before it will be classed as a new shark and again you will receive notification every time it is seen.
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 timeframe 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.