Cochin, August 30, 2017: On the occasion of International Whale Shark Day, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL) have announced the launch of a massive awareness campaign targeted at coastal communities and aimed at securing a safer future for whale sharks, the gentle giants of the sea, off the coasts of Kerala and Lakshadweep.
August 30 was mandated as International Whale Shark Day at the 2008 International Whale Shark Conference held in Isla Holbox, Mexico. It is a day to celebrate the world’s largest extant fish species, growing in popularity but as yet poorly researched, and categorised as ‘Endangered’ on IUCN’s Red List with its global population dwindling due to negative human impacts, both direct and indirect.
Whale sharks are found all along the coast of India and, since 2001, have been legally protected under Schedule I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 – the first fish species in the country to be accorded this highest level of protection. They are found in Kerala and Lakshadweep waters and face serious threats here, as they do elsewhere, due to the degradation of the marine ecosystem by factors such as pollution, climate change and unsustainable fishing practices.
WTI, in partnership with CSL, will be conducting whale shark awareness campaigns across prominent coastal towns and villages in Kerala.
Whale sharks once also faced a grave threat along the Gujarat coast, before WTI began its Whale Shark Campaign in the state in 2004. The campaign, which was supported by the Gujarat Forest Department and Tata Chemicals Ltd, slowly developed awareness about the whale shark’s protected status and how it was a migrant visitor to the Gujarat coast, deserving of hospitality, not cruelty. Over the next decade, the attitudes of local fishing communities changed completely and saving the whale shark became a matter of pride. Nearly 700 whale sharks have been voluntarily released by fishermen between 2004 and June 2017 as a direct result of the project’s activities.
Now WTI, in partnership with CSL, is extending this award-winning conservation initiative to Kerala and will be conducting whale shark awareness campaigns across prominent coastal towns and villages in the state. The Whale Shark Conservation Project was formally launched by Smt Soumuni Jain, the Mayor of Cochin; Shri Hibi Eden, MLA; Mr Vivek Menon, Executive Director & CEO, Wildlife Trust of India; Mr Sunny Thomas, Director (Technical), Cochin Shipyard Ltd; Dr Amit Mallick, APCCF, Kerala Forest Deparment; Councillors Mr CK Peter and Ms Elizabeth Teacher; and other dignitaries at an event celebrating International Whale Shark Day at the Sacred Heart College, Thevara, this afternoon.
The event began with a rally by students of the Sacred Heart Senior Secondary School. The schoolchildren were excited to see the 40-foot-long life-sized inflatable whale shark that had been placed in the college’s basketball court, with many remarking that they had never seen such a big fish! Mr Sajan John, Manager and Head, Marine Projects, WTI delivered the welcome address. WTI Senior Advisor Professor BC Choudhury then introduced the award-winning Whale Shark Conservation Project to the attendees. “Compared to the long journey that a whale shark tagged under our project has taken from the Gujarat coast to the Somalian coast, our conservation action journey from the Gujarat coast to the Kerala coast may appear small”, he remarked later. “The launch of this project in Kerala is, however, a significant collaborative conservation effort by the Wildlife Trust of India, Cochin Shipyard Ltd and the Kerala Forest Department in our ongoing efforts to save this gentle giant of the seas.”
This was followed by the lighting of the ceremonial lamp. The presidential address was delivered by Shri Hibi Eden, MLA and the inaugural address by Cochin Mayor Smt Soumini Jain. “We are happy that WTI’s Gujarat project, which was the first of its kind in India, has now made its first expansion to the Kerala coast”, Smt Jain said. The Reverend Dr Prashanth, Principal of Sacred Heart College also addressed the attendees.
WTI CEO Vivek Menon delivered the keynote address. “Whale sharks, which are endangered in the tropical seas that they live in throughout the world, are important indicators of ocean health”, he said. “We have had great success with our community engagement model in the conservation of whale sharks off the coast of Gujarat and we are pleased to now formally extend this model to Kerala, and to the second-largest congregation of whale sharks in India, found off the shores of Kerala and Lakshadweep.”
“We are proud to be associated with the Whale Shark Conservation Project”, said Mr Sunny Thomas, Director (Technical), Cochin Shipyard Ltd. “We have seen the project team in action in Gujarat and look forward to seeing the project achieve similar results in Kerala.”
The event ended with a vote of thanks by Mr Ramith M, Field Officer, WTI.