In conjunction with the East African Whale Shark Trust and generous donors in Watamu

15.Feb. 2008 - Kenya Coast is hosting the two week "Whale Shark Expedition 2008" - which promises to be a ground-breaking, history-making adventure in research and education.

An expedition spokesman noted earlier this week:

"The build-up in excitement is growing as the arrival date of the American research team from Hubbs Seaworld Research Institute is San Diego, California draws ever closer.

"The team together with underwater videographers from Europe will arrive on 18 February for their annual two week whale shark tagging initiative.

"In conjunction with the East African Whale Shark Trust and generous donors in Watamu, the researchers hope to tag whale sharks with the latest, state of the art satellite tags."

A total of 15 satellite tags have been donated by private sponsors.

EAWST operations manager Nimu Njonjo explained:

"The team is also coming fully equipped with streamer tags which will enable us to increase our photo-ID database."

The satellite tags are attached to the whale shark using a sling-type Hawaiian spear-gun.

The tags are attached as deep as possible into the whale shark's very thick skin - they have the thickest skin in the animal world reaching up to 15 cm thick.

The tags are programmed to pop-off after a specific pre-set period, usually around six to nine months.

The data is then transmitted via satellite.

Data includes date, time, dive profile, ambient light, ambient pressure, location (every time the shark surfaces), salinity level and temperature.

The streamer tags are similar to identity bracelets that the whale sharks wear - whenever a whale shark is spotted it will be easy to see if it is one that has been spotted before if it is wearing the numbered tag.

It is then possible to track where they go and even for how long.

This year the expedition will have two bases, both in Diani and in Watamu.

It will be the first time research of this kind is carried out along Kenya's north coast.

Conducting this research is not always easy however.

Conditions at sea can be difficult and the actual mechanics of tagging the sharks is far from simple.

The tagger has to get close enough to the shark to implant the tag properly knowing that each tag is valued at around USD5000.

It is extremely important to affix the tag properly so that it does not fall off and get lost at sea before it has transmitted any data.

Sometimes even spotting the sharks is difficult and this year local pilots have very kindly pledged support to the research expedition.

The transport and pick-ups are being done by Southern Cross Safaris and private individuals in the community.

The scientists will be wonderfully hosted in style at Leisure Lodge Resort and Pinewood Village in Diani and Hemingways in Watamu.

Southern Cross Scuba, Kinondo Kwetu and Trust founder Volker Bassen have pledged the use of their boats and dive gear in Diani whilst in Watamu the boats and dive gear will kindly be provided by Hemingways and Aquaventures.

The Diani expedition will be based out of Aqualand Watersports Centre, next to Pinewood Hotel on Diani Kinondo beach.

Aqualand is Kenya's leading watersports centre offering a host of watersports ranging from diving to fishing to kite-surfing.

It is the home of the EAWST and the heart of adventure watersports in Kenya.

The Watamu expedition will be based out of Hemingways, one of Kenya's most exclusive beach resorts.

"Whale Shark Expedition 2008 promises to be a ground-breaking, history-making adventure in research and education.

"This is a huge, exciting step for Kenya," added Nimu Njonjo.

"Whale shark tagging is still relatively new and we are taking a leap into the realms of the latest scientific, aquatic research.

"Thanks to the whale sharks along our coastline we are placing Kenya firmly on the global whale shark map.

"It is critical however that we don't lose sight of the end goal, which is to increase protection afforded to the biggest fish in the ocean."

Whale sharks are harmless and yet they are targeted all over the world for their valuable fins and liver.

They are also caught as by-catch in many areas such as our coastline.

The EAWST works very closely with local fishermen to try to reduce the number of whale sharks caught by mistake.

The fishermen project and education initiatives are progressing well.

"We invite readers to get involved with Expedition 2008 by coming to see a whale shark.

"Join us in Diani or Watamu on one of our daily trips, attend one of our presentations or join the scientists and watch them work.

"We want everyone to follow the exciting research being carried out along our coastline and feel a real pride in the work being achieved here by so many people working together."




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