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Abstract

The Qatar Whale Shark Research Project is a collaboration of government, industry and academia founded in 2012 to investigate anecdotal reports by Maersk Oil-platform workers of large numbers of whale sharks seen in the Al Shaheen field, Qatar. The Qatar Whale Shark Research Project is a collaboration of government, industry and academia founded in 2012 to investigate anecdotal reports by Maersk Oil-platform workers of large numbers of whale sharks seen in the Al Shaheen field, Qatar. Satellite tracking of whale sharks tagged in Al Shaheen showed that they prefer depths in excess of 40 m and rarely made dives deeper than 100 m. Temperature preferences were between 27 °C and 33 °C but the sharks were shown to regularly feed in temperatures in excess of 35 °C. Sharks were seen to aggregate in the Al Shaheen region in the summer and disperse widely throughout the region in the winter months outside of the tuna spawning season. The majority of sharks stayed within the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. Only one shark ventured southwards and left the study area where the tag popped off between Somalia and Socotra. This exceptional and large-scale horizontal movement was made by a visibly pregnant 9 m female whale shark. A previously unknown area of interest was discovered in Saudi Arabian waters 126 km North-West of Al Shaheen and 100 km offshore off Al Jubail, which could possibly be a new aggregation site for whale sharks in the Arabian Gulf. Whale sharks tagged in Al Shaheen distributed throughout the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman outside of the Al Shaheen tuna-spawning season and only one large female left the area entirely. The size of whale sharks tagged in Al Shaheen was defined by occurrence and ranged from 4–10 m. The absence of smaller or larger sharks suggest that these animals demonstrate a different movement strategy, and that this region may be a staging post for sub-adult and recently mature individuals. When not feeding in Al Shaheen, whale sharks spend little to no time at the surface. No notable difference in habitat preference was noted between male and female or juvenile and mature animals. Individual sharks display different behaviour and movements patterns, assessment of individuals and their unique behaviour is necessary to help determine the behaviour of the species. Areas of interest identified through the satellite tagging initiative warrant further investigation, especially the site of Al Jubail in Saudi Arabia that appears to be another significant aggregation site.

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/content/papers/10.5339/qproc.2016.iwsc4.52
2016-05-15
2019-08-18
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