Whale Shark Conservation
Until recently, aggregations of whale sharks off Belize and Mexico were not well known. Seeing a whale shark in the ocean was so rare that even well-known oceanographers such as Dr. Sylvia Earle and Philippe Cousteau did not see their first whale shark until coming to an aquarium.
The Georgia Aquarium is committed to whale shark conservation and advancing the scientific community's understanding of whale sharks and growing public awareness of whale sharks as an ambassador species for sharks. By researching and housing whale sharks, the Aquarium is able to participate in groundbreaking scientific research and educate millions of people about the animals, both of which encourage and promote the conservation of the species.
By having whale sharks in the Georgia Aquarium, we raise awareness of the species, and encourage our guests to be stewards of the oceans.
- Our interpreters have introduced nearly five million people face to face to whale sharks.
- Our educators have taught nearly 100,000 students for the first time about whale sharks.
- Our team has reached out through national and international media to teach hundreds of millions of people about whale sharks, many learning about the species for the first time.
- Our Seafood Savvy program gives our guests the tools to make environmentally responsible decisions when eating seafood.
- In cooperation with the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, the Georgia Aquarium’s Correll Center for Aquatic Animal Health is a veterinary teaching hospital advancing the understanding and care of aquatic animals.
Groundbreaking Research on Whale Sharks
By studying whale sharks in the Georgia Aquarium, we establish a baseline understanding of these animals that facilitates the management of native populations around the world.
- Georgia Aquarium was the first facility to perform routine physical examinations on whale sharks. Our first whale shark blood sampling establishes a baseline understanding of this species’ blood.
- In cooperation with other research facilities, we are advancing the scientific community’s understanding of the anatomy of whale sharks. Already, we know their food filtration systems are more complicated than anything seen previously in fish or the other two species of filter-feeding sharks. The Aquarium and its research partners are working to publish groundbreaking discoveries in scientific journals.
- In order to advance the care of sharks, the Georgia Aquarium husbandry and veterinary team traveled to Asia, learning from other facilities caring for whale sharks and sharing with them what we have learned.
- Field research conducted and funded by the Georgia Aquarium off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico is advancing understanding of behavior, feeding patterns and nutritional requirements of whale sharks.
- The Georgia Aquarium is working in conjunction with researchers in Mexico and Taiwan, as well as Mote Marine Laboratory, to track whale sharks with visual and satellite tags. To date, more than 700 whale sharks have been tagged, increasing our understanding of their natural history.
- The Georgia Aquarium is working with field researchers to understand how to develop whale shark health assessments in native populations.
Whale Shark Conservation and the Future
In the long term, our whale shark program can help to better understand the species and work toward its long term survival in the oceans.
- Marine animal breeding behaviors are mostly understood through work in zoological facilities. We hope to better understand the reproductive biology of whale sharks over the coming years.
- Funding and support of research at the Georgia Aquarium and field research programs continue to build on an already extensive program.
- Sharks around the world are being depleted at alarming rates due to overfishing, primarily through by-catch and fishing for shark fin soup. Whale sharks are gentle giants, the flagship species of sharks, helping public perception get away from the man-eating Hollywood portrayal of sharks and creating an understanding of sharks as worth saving.