Prior to 2001, due to the lack of legal protection, whale sharks were brutally and extensively hunted across the shores of Gujarat state in western India. Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) actively lobbied the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India, for legal protection of the species by placing it in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. A brief survey during 2004 along the coastal town of Veraval, the hub of the whale shark slaughter, revealed a low awareness level (19%) of poaching and the protection status of whale sharks among the fishers. Following the survey, WTI launched a large-scale whale shark awareness campaign in 2004, with a special focus on Veraval, with the funding support of Tata Chemicals Ltd (TCL), which led to the training of 1500 fishers into an organised information providing network. The whale shark campaign spread awareness on the plight of the species and its protected status in Gujarat. The campaign not only helped convert Gujarat fishermen into protectors of the whale shark by bringing about a major change in the perception and attitude of local people, but also helped in local protection of the species. As a result of the campaign, seven coastal towns adopted the whale shark as their city mascots. The campaign led to a model relief programme that offered monetary support to fishers whose nets were damaged or had to be cut open during the rescue and release of whale sharks. To speed up the release and reduce stress on the sharks, a self-photo documentation process of whale shark rescue for fishers was started. 1200 waterproof cameras were distributed to fishers to document the rescue and release of whale sharks. The captured images of a rescue by fisher folk served as evidence to prove the damage to nets. The photos also helped fishermen claim financial relief from the government scheme to repair/replace nets. From its inception until 2015, 571 whale sharks had been rescued and voluntarily released by fishers with not a single record of whale shark slaughtering. To further strengthen the whale shark conservation activities among fishers, fourteen “” clubs ( =Friends of whale sharks) were registered in the fishing villages of Veraval and Mangarol (seven clubs each), with an objective of motivating fishers to fish in a whale shark friendly manner, and to make coastal school children understand the importance of coastal ecosystems and involve them in action based programmes related to whale shark conservation. This project has won several conservation laurels. These include the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) Green Governance Award in 2005, the Gujarat Ecology Commission (GEC) Award during 2012 and the UNDP Indian Biodiversity Award to the Gujarat Forest Department for co-management in 2014. The whale shark conservation project with the support of fishing communities and corporate house has stopped the killing of whale sharks along the Gujarat coast. The project also instilled a sense of pride among fishing communities along Gujarat coast and ongoing annual International whale shark day celebrations and Gujarat whale shark celebrations are keeping the whale shark conservation message alive among the communities and coastal school students.


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