Monday, 15 October 2007

Talking to the Whale Shark keeper - story written for Diver Magazine website


Writing for Diver Magazine's Website

I have been helping add content to Diver Magazine's website (divermag.com). There is a real person power shortage at Diver's headquarters. They are down an employee or two and keeping the website going appears to be a catch as catch can assignment. Most of the material I have written for the site never has been posted. For some reason there is a problem posting photographs on the site.

During September I wrote to the Georgia Aquarium and conducted an email interview about two new whale sharks they had been given by an aquarium in Taiwan. The story, picture and interview have been lanquishing in my growing file of not-yet published stories. So, before the factoids raised by the Georgia Aquarium are stale dated, I have decided to run the story and photo on this web page.

Whale Sharks and the Aquarium Keeper

Early this summer the Georgia Aquarium welcomed two new live whale sharks to their Ocean Voyager exhibit. The whale sharks, both males, were given the Taiwanese names Yushan and Taroko, to honour their country of origin.

Yushan, 13 feet 7 inches long, and Taroko, 15 feet four inches long, were flown more than 8,000 miles on a specially configured B747 freighter aircraft from Taipei, Taiwan, through Anchorage, Alaska, to Atlanta. Both whale sharks were under the care and supervision of Georgia Aquarium professional staff and maintained by a highly advanced marine life support system.

Yushan and Taroko are the latest in the Georgia Aquarium's 4R Program (Rehabilitation, Relocation, Rescue and Research), a strategy designed to make a positive difference in the health and well being of aquatic life from around the world.

"The Georgia Aquarium is advancing scientific understanding of whale sharks by combining field research with in-house study through our 4R Program," said Jeff Swanagan, president and executive director, the Georgia Aquarium "We will release results later this year from research conducted in Mexico and Taiwan which we hope will help the world gain a better understanding of the migration patterns and feeding habits of whale sharks in their native habitats."

The Georgia Aquarium is the first facility of its kind outside of Asia to house whale sharks. The Aquarium partnered with Taiwan to bring all their whale sharks - Yushan, Taroko, Norton, Alice and Trixie - to the facility's Ocean Voyager exhibit, a habitat specially designed to house up to six full grown whale sharks. Through their partnership, the Georgia Aquarium, the government of Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Atlanta are taking steps toward long-term management of the worldwide whale shark population. Taiwan reduced their whale shark fishing quota from 60 in 2006 to 30 in 2007 and will move to zero in 2008. The Georgia Aquarium hopes such positive practices will encourage other countries to adopt sustainable seafood practices and educate the public on the subject of aquatic conservation.


Divermag.com talks to Dave Santucci Communications Director at the
Aquarium about the two new Whale Sharks

Three months after Yushan and Taroko were moved to the Georgia Aquarium, Divermag.com reporter Stephen Weir, contacted Dave Santucci, of the Georgia Aquarium. The Communications Director was asked about the condition of the two Whale Sharks. What follows are portions of the online interview that was conducted earlier this month.

Stephen Weir: Have the sharks grown since arriving in the US. And if so, by how much?

Dave Santucci: Our two new whale sharks, Yushan and Taroko are doing quite well. They have grown between 6 inches and a foot each in the three months they’ve been here.

Stephen Weir: How big will they grow and what is their life length expectations?

Dave Santucci: Part of the research being conducted by the Georgia Aquarium is trying to understand the natural history of whale sharks found off the coasts of Mexico and Taiwan. Our observations in Mexico where that most adult whale sharks were between 5-8 meters and of similar size in Taiwan.

In terms of life expectancy, there is no study generally accepted by scientists on the life span of whale sharks. We know for certain they can live at least thirteen years because that is how long one has been in a Japanese Aquarium. It is still there and doing well.

Stephen Weir: Since the pair are North Pacific fish, do you have to use Pacific Ocean water, or does home grown water work

Dave Santucci: Whale sharks are found around the world in waters ranging from as far north as the East Coast of the United States to as far south as Australia. We use water similar to most Aquariums home or professional and that is fresh water mixed with Instant Ocean .

Stephen Weir: Have your aquarium divers been in the tank with them? If so, how do the whale sharks react. Are they actually aware of the divers? What little I know, as a diver, about the sharks, they don't seem to aware of humans?

Dave Santucci: Divers enter the 6.3 million gallon Ocean Voyager exhibit every day. Daily divers go into clean windows and weekly they go into vacuum and inspect the filtration system. The sharks for the most part go about their business when the divers are in the water, they are aware of the divers and will avoid them if needed.

Stephen Weir: Are there more whale sharks coming? And when are they coming?

Dave Santucci: No.

Stephen Weir: Have the whale sharks proven to popular with visitors?

Dave Santucci: The Georgia Aquarium has had nearly 6 million visitors in the first 21 months of operation. Just about all of our visitors have never seen a whale shark before coming to the Georgia Aquarium. It is the perfect ambassador species for sharks because it is a gentle giant and one that inspires people to take notice. We take advantage of people's interest when they see our Ocean Voyager exhibit and hand out sustainable seafood cards that help consumers make responsible decisions when ordering seafood.

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