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Whale Sharks

September 3, 2009

Marine scientists use digital photographs to identify and help conserve the world’s largest sharks.


Swimming with the sharks. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.
The world’s largest species of shark is also the gentlest: the whale shark. But the enormous fish are endangered, and in the Central American country of Belize, divemaster and tourguide Garth Longworth is part of a small volunteer army that’s tracking them in hopes of saving them. They photograph the shark’s distinctive pattern of spots and send the photo and the location to a website.

And each one has it like a fingerprint, so each one is different. So there’s a pattern, and the computer picks it up and/ they’ll get back to you if it’s a match or if it’s a new shark or whatever it is.

A group called Ecocean developed the computer software that identifies the sharks based on their spot patterns. With the help of hundreds of volunteers like Longsworth, they’re building a huge database of whale shark information that will help scientists learn what’s happening to the sharks, and what can be done to save them. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.