The Project

The Whale Shark Project uses photo-identification - a powerful non-invasive field technique for studying live sharks in their natural environment.

Very little is known about the life of the Whale Shark, primarily because of the difficulty in conducting field research into an animal that spends most of its life underwater and out of sight. However by submitting your Whale Shark images and sighting details to our online database you will be helping us to better understand the life history of this vulnerable and highly migratory species. 

Whale Sharks display distinguishable and recognisable identification markings. These may be in the form of natural markings (pigmentation) or acquired markings (scars, injuries), which are unique to individual animals. Each Whale Shark has a unique, distinctive pattern of light pigmented spots along the forward flanks which have proved to be effective in differentiating individual sharks, as have scars and injuries to the first dorsal fin.

Researchers are currently studying Whale Sharks at many sites where they are seen at certain times of year and an increasing number of divers encounter them at dive sites along their usual migratory routes or feeding grounds. 

This means that every encounter that you have with a Whale Shark and every picture of its unique markings is an important piece of knowledge that will help to understand the biology of Whale Sharks and go some way towards assisting their conservation.

Using the photographs submitted to our database, it is possible to re-identify individuals and as matches are made we can make inferences about geographic movements over different time scales. This can provide valuable information about migrations, population structure and feeding behaviour, which can be used in planning shark conservation and management measures. Additional data (such as shark size, maturity and behaviour) recorded along with each photo-identification image can also provide information relating to growth rate, age, size at maturity and reproductive behaviour.

The Shark Trust is collaborating with the ECOCEAN's Whale Shark Photo-ID Database based in Ningaloo, Australia to provide the most comprehensive global Whale Shark Photo-ID collection.