By Prerna Singh Bindra
BEST SEEN AT: Off Veraval coast, Saurashtra
STATUS: Schedule I/Vulnerable
GOOD TO KNOW: Whale sharks have thousands of tiny teeth arranged in more than 300 rows though they neither bite nor chew their food!
WHALE SHARKS are popularly known as gentle giants of the tropical oceans. The largest living fish in the world, they can weigh over 13 tonnes and grow up to 60 feet in length. They are known to migrate large distances – some believe that whale sharks in India swim all the way from Australia. Till about a decade ago, few knew of the existence of the whale shark in India, and the ones who did — mostly fishermen off the coast of Saurashtra in Gujarat — killed it to coat their boat with oil and for meat sold to exporters for shark ‘tofu’ in south Asian countries. Nearly a thousand whale sharks would be slaughtered annually. It was the film Shores of Silence that gave this shark its second lease of life in the form of legal protection in 2001. Because of awareness raised by the film, along with efforts by NGOs, the species is showing signs of recovery. Hunters have turned protectors and last year 56 whale sharks caught in fishing nets were released. However, hunting for meat, oil spills and pollution due to heavy development along coastlines continue to pose a serious threat.