July has seen a marked increase in whale shark activity in all areas of the region, in particular Qatar, Musandam and Damaniyat Islands in Oman.
July is usually an average month for whale shark occurrence, but this year we have had many sharks reported from hotspots in Oman, and a few repeat sightings too. One shark seen at the end of July in the Musandam was also seen three years ago in the Damaniyat islands, which is our longest match to date! Unfortunately during this time the shark had sustained propeller damage to the dorsal fin but it seemed to be healing very well.
Another match was between a shark seen feeding in Qatari waters by myself in July 2011 and this same shark appeared again on 20th July in Musandam. These movements and re-sights using simple spot pattern analysis are helping to build up a picture of the Arabian whale shark story.
Fieldwork in Qatar has been very successful so far this year and we have seen sharks on almost every trip. On a research visit on July 13th and 14th, we had two consecutive days swimming with a large aggregation of around 100 whale sharks that were feeding in the area. The sun was very hot but the wind was low which allowed us to deploy satellite, tags, acoustic tags and also to collect many tissue samples from the sharks for analysis.
I am hoping to get a further research trip to Qatar in August after the Eid celebrations have finished. Hopefully the sharks will still be in the area, as last year sightings started to decline within the Gulf in early September.
Unfortunately, one of the SOSF tags that we deployed on an adult male whale shark came off after being attached for just 41 days. The tag had pulled out of the shark by the anchor and floated to the surface, which means it probably became snagged on something. Then, after 8 consecutive days at a constant depth (surface), triggered an early release. The tag transmitted data back for seven days and I received a lot of information about the sharks movements and, depth and temperature profiles. The tag surfaced north of mainland Qatar and drifted very close to shore, we tried to find it but were unsuccessful, but as it was so close to the coast, I am hoping that someone will find it and give me a call.