Dhamlej, Gujarat, November 22, 2017: The coastal communities of Gujarat observed ‘Vhali Utsav’ or ‘Whale Shark Day’ on November 18, on the occasion of the auspicious Kartik-vad Amavasya, as has been the norm since 2007 when the Gujarat government had designated it as a day to celebrate this gentle giant of the seas.
Whale shark populations are dwindling globally but there is some cause for celebration along the shoreline of Gujarat, where through the combined efforts of Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), the Gujarat Forest Department and Tata Chemicals (TCL) under the Whale Shark Conservation Project, fishermen who once hunted the whale shark have, over the last decade, become its proud protectors.
Gujarat Whale Shark Day aims to recognise the efforts of the fishing community in actively conserving whale sharks. This year, the event was held at the fishing village of Dhamlej. A one-day awareness seminar on whale shark conservation in India, with a special focus on the Gujarat coast, was organised at the Shri Dhaumya Primary School on the occasion. About 300 students attended the seminar, which was chaired by Mr Khatana, Assistant Conservator of Forests, Junagadh Forest Division. Other dignitaries included Mr MJ Zala, the school’s Principal and Mr AD Khumar, Range Forest Officer, Veraval.
Students were happy to learn that their home state provided safe harbour to the largest extant fish in the world.
The event began with a documentary on the Whale Shark Conservation Project. WTI Sociologist Mr Farukhkha Bloch then made a presentation on the conservation needs and ecological significance of whale sharks. The presentation also underscored the specific role of local fishing communities in the project’s success and the importance of a partnership between scientists and community members in the conservation of any species.
Students were eager to know about the project’s background and ongoing activities. Many enquired about the need to conserve whale sharks and were happy to know that their home state provided safe harbour to the largest extant fish in the world. Posters, banners, hand-outs and photographs explaining various aspects of the project were placed on display to provide further information.
The ACF Mr Khatana delivered the presidential address on the occasion. “Conserving a biological equilibrium holds the key to a healthy and sustainable future”, he said. “Whale sharks help in maintaining this key biological balance in the marine ecosystem by keeping a check on plankton blooms.” The ACF praised the involvement and contribution of Ms Aradhana Sahu, the forest department representative previously associated with the project. He also told students about the pioneering compensation scheme for fishermen that the Gujarat Forest Department provides under the project.
The school Principal Mr MJ Zala urged the students to take upon themselves the responsibility of disseminating the conservation knowledge they had acquired on the day, adding that it was the need of the hour that several such conservation activities be organised. An interactive session followed wherein students were able to engage with Mr Charan Kumar, the WTI Marine Biologist associated with the project. As the event wound down students posed for photographs with a life-sized inflatable whale shark, while shouting slogans in support of whale shark conservation.