Is the secret birth place of the whale sharks located in Philippine waters?

The tiny whale shark caught off the Philippine coast near San Antonio on March 6 has been confirmed by WWF to be the smallest live whale shark on record ever to be captured and released in the Philippines and arguably also the smallest living whale shark ever to be scientifically recorded.

Baby whale shark

Picture by WWF PF. Support WWF

The impressive Whale shark, Rhincodon typus, is the largest fish on the planet. The biggest specimen regarded as accurately recorded was caught in Pakistani waters in 1947 and measured 12.65 metres (41.50 ft) in length, with a girth of 7 metres (23.0 ft) and a weight exceeding 21.5 tonnes (47,300 lb).

The small specimen caught near San Antonio was on the other hand no longer than 15 in (38 cm) and may be what biologists call a neonate, i.e. a newborn. This is very interesting, since we still do not know to which part or parts of the world Whale shark females migrate to give birth to their pups. The finding of this tiny pup has caused scientists to speculate that the Philippine waters might be one of the places on the planet where the biggest fish in the world is born.

So, how did this petite Whale shark end up in human hands? On the morning of March 7, word reached Tourism Officer Pedragosa that a whale shark had been caught near San Antonio the day before. Pedragosa immediately sent Butanding Interaction Officer Guadamor to inform the town’s Municipal Agricultural officer Rabulan, and at this point, Aca, WWF’s Project Leader in Donsol, the municipality in which San Antonio is located, also became involved. When a shark is caught, time is of course crucial – examining the animal is important from a scientific point of view, but you don’t want to subject the shark to more stress than necessary. Aca therefore joined the officers of tourism, agriculture, and interaction at the tourism office right away and together they hastily drew up an operational plan and headed for San Antonio. At this stage, Berango, Chief of Police of Pilar, had also been alerted and Ravanilla, Regional Director of Tourism, had informed the resorts closest to the site.

The Chief of Police met up with Aca and the ministers at the seashore, where they found not a gigantic whale but a small stick jammed into the sand with a rope leading away from it into the ocean. As they followed the rope, they saw that it was tied around the tail of the smallest whale shark they had ever encountered before.

Whale shark
Whale Shark – Picture GNU Licensed

The team examined the shark to make sure that it had not been hurt, gave it food, measured it and documented the unique find. Less then three hours after the report first reached the tourism officer, the shark had been safely transferred to a big, water-filled plastic bag and the team was now heading towards deeper water where the shark could be released. Releasing it close to shore was not considered safe enough since the shallows in this area contains a lot of nets.

All this action took place in Sorsogon, a Philippine province famous for hosting the largest known annual congregation of whale sharks in the world. The province has become a popular destination for vacationers interested in snorkelling with sharks and going on shark safaris, and WWF is therefore working with local residents to develop and improve sustainable eco tourism practices along the coast.