24 – 27 April 2010

Woodland Resort, Donsol

Research boat with our big Panda flag at the "mast", we go forth and look for whale sharks in the waters of Donsol Bay

WWF Research boat with our big Panda flag at the “mast” as we go forth and look for whale sharks in the waters of Donsol Bay

To address some important questions about where sharks spend their time and what habtitats are important to them, a whale shark tagging program was set up four years ago in Donsol for whale shark conservation. With funding for megafauna research from WWF Denmark managed by Lene Topp, and quite a number of tags supported by Kerzner Marine Foundation, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI) and Project Aware, American scientist Dr. Brent Stewart, Senior Research Biologist of HSWRI from San Diego was able to tag, on the fourth year of the project, whale sharks in Donsol, Sorsogon, Philippines.  Since 2007, 29 sharks have been tagged in Donsol.

WWF Denmark is supporting the overall whale shark program in Donsol. Other than the scientific tagging program, they also help fund the management and enforcement of the rules and regulations pertaining to responsible tourism whale shark interactions.

The greenish waters of Donsol holds rich plankton food for whale sharks to come here year after year

The greenish blue waters of Donsol has rich plankton food for whale sharks to come here year after year

This summer, nine whale sharks were tagged with archival tags. The small white archival tag records the water temperature and depth movement of the shark the tag is attached to. This tag must be physically removed to recover the stored data.

WWF Philippines VP for Conservation Programmes Joel Palma takes a picture of Brent Stewart of Hubbs-Sea World and and Lene Topp of WWF Denmark

WWF Philippines VP for Conservation Programmes Joel Palma takes a snap shot of tagging scientist Dr. Brent Stewart (HSWRI) explaining the mechanism of his dart gun with archival tag attached to it to Lene Topp of WWF Denmark. Lene holds the Pop-up satellite tag or PAT tag in her hands.

Also this year, six sharks were tagged with pop-up satellite tags or (PAT) tags.  The PAT tags records the whale shark’s habits, swimming patterns, preferred swimming depths, water temperature and swimming speed.

PAT tags store data in tag for depth movement, ambient water temperature vs depth and ambient light levels

PAT tags store data in the tag for depth movement, ambient water temperature vs depth and ambient light levels

The PAT tag gets released on a programmed date and it floats to the surface. It transmits stored data to Earth-orbiting satellites for 7-10 days and the data is sent to the tagger (Brent) within a month.

A whale shark is spotted and the tagging team gets ready to enter the water from a typical Philippine outrigger boat called banca

A whale shark is spotted and the tagging team gets ready to enter the water from a typical Philippine outrigger boat called banca

We got to Donsol with the two last tags waiting for us – a PAT tag and an archival tag. The other 13 tags have been efficiently deployed by speedy Brent the past week since he got there.  Lucky us to still get there in time to document this major scientific event.

Brent gets ready to deploy the PAT tag. WWF Philippines David David is behind him ready to take a photo ID of the sharks left pectoral fin

Brent gets ready to deploy the tag. WWF Philippines David David is behind him ready to take a photo ID of the shark’s left pectoral fin

Brent expertly tags a whale shark with an archival tag. With the help of the air harpoon, the tip of the tag enters and lodges itself in to the fat layer of the shark near the dorsal fin

Brent expertly tags a whale shark with an archival tag. With the help of a dart gun, the tip of the tag enters and lodges itself into the fat layer of the shark near the dorsal fin. The shark did not react at all.

The archival tags is successfully attached to the shark. Butanding Interaction Officer and a new WWF Donsol staff member Embet Guadamor free dives to take a photo ID of whale shark's left pectoral fin area

The archival tag is successfully deployed. Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) and new WWF Donsol staff member Embet Guadamor (L) free dives to take a photo ID of the whale shark’s left pectoral fin area

By mid-day it was all over. There were many other tourist boats in the water and we were one of perhaps 15 boats out there. It was a very good season for Donsol.

(L-R) New WWF staff Embet Guadamor together with other WWF staff members, WWF Philippines David David and WWF Indonesia turtle expert Creusa "Tetha" Hitipeuw chats and compares whale shark experiences

(L-R) New WWF staff Embet Guadamor together with other WWF staff members, WWF Philippines David David and WWF Indonesia turtle expert Creusa “Tetha” Hitipeuw chat and compare whale shark experiences

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