The whale shark conservation programme along the East Godavari River Estuarine Ecosystem (EGREE) region, of Andhra Pradesh, east-coast of India, was started in June 2012 under the direction of the Government of India, the United Nations Development Programme, the Global Environment Facility and the Government of Andhra Pradesh Godavari Project. It was started for the conservation and management of globally threatened species protected under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, and employing cross sectoral mechanisms among various stakeholders, namely enforcement departments (state and central governments), production sectors (industries), fishermen and the public. Questionnaire surveys are conducted to learn the present status of whale sharks along the Andhra Pradesh Coast, and literature surveys are done to understand the past and present whale shark distribution along the east coast of India. Major fish landing centres are monitored to record whale sharks landings, including seasonality, size and sex ratio. Massive awareness programmes and campaigns are conducted to improve the knowledge levels of various stakeholders. A whale shark conservation action plan is being prepared for the Andhra Pradesh coast by cross sectoral mechanisms. Fishery experts, researchers and local fishermen opined that until late 2007, the whale shark was a rare visitor to the EGREE region, but the number of sharks has increased in recent years. According to fishermen, whale sharks are seen at a depth of 20–40 m and sometimes come close to shore where they become entangled in shore seine nets. The fishermen revealed that whale sharks are seen mostly solitary or in small groups of 3 to 5 individuals, but sometimes over 200–300 individuals will aggregate in the open sea near the EGREE Region. As per the available literature, the total number of whale sharks killed as bycatch was 20 along the Andhra Pradesh coast between 1889 and 1998 (110 years). But surveys by the EGREE Foundation that between June 2013 and January 2016, 79 individual whale sharks were killed. The whale shark landings happened in all months except during the fishing ban from 16th April to 15th June. In September of 2014, 22 whale sharks were brought to the landing center. Of these 22 sharks, four were alive after being caught in a shore-seine fishing net. Both questionnaire and field surveys revealed that coastal and marine areas of the EGREE region have become a hot spot for whale sharks in recent years. The size of the whale sharks brought to the landing centers ranged between 2.1–6.68 m (mean 3.71±SD 1.04, n=44), and males (58%) outnumbered females. Based on the study, conservation and management measures are being taken by the EGREE Foundation through 1) massive awareness programmes to sensitize the fishermen and local public, 2) education and awareness applied to students and elected representatives of state and central governments, and 3) training of enforcement staff such as the Indian Coast Guard, Marine Police, Fisheries, Forest and Customs and Central Excise. A whale shark conservation action plan is being prepared for the Andhra Pradesh Coast by involving various state and central government departments, production sectors like oil & gas operators, and private port operators, local fishermen and policy makers. This study indicated that whale shark numbers have increased and a globally significant aggregation of whale sharks is happening in the coastal and marine areas of EGREE region. Long-term research and monitoring is needed in this region.


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