Lanta Whale Shark’s DOTs Activity

1. Introduction Whale shark, marine endangered species, is a migratory animal found along Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. It is significant to tourism attracting a number of divers to visit Thailand. In some countries, whale shark fishery is a legal activity. This severely threatens whale shark lives and put them at risk of extinction. However,available information and studies on whale sharks are very limited compared to increasing demands. The number of whale shark population, their migratory routes, and status still remain unknown. Hence, there is a real need for surveys. Conducting surveys on whale sharks requires huge financial support, manpower and time, therefore, could not be accomplished by just one organization. Cooperation with the private sector is an important key to fulfill this extensive survey and conservation of the largest fish in the world. Lanta Islands as one of migratory and paritcular feeding ground of whale sharks areurging you to support and participate in “Lanta Whale Shark’s DOTs Activity” tohelp us conserve this animal.   2. Lanta Whale Shark’s DOTs Activity The activity has been initiated to monitor whale shark population and distribution through a collaboration between Mu Ko Lanta National Park, SAMPAN Project, Department of Marine and Coastal Resources and tour operators in Lanta Islands. A survey using photo identification technique can identify whale shark’s dots pattern and answer the question of population numbers, habitats, and feeding grounds which arevery essential for the conservation. Tour operators especially dive tours and hotels can play an important role in supporting this survey. Whale shark photographs taken by “DOTs shooting technique” during sea travelling can be submitted to www.whalesharkDOTs.org for scientific analysis. Moreover their conservation activity can raise public awareness of the need for protecting marine animals.
SAMPAN: Strengthening Andaman Marine Protected Area Network SAMPAN Project is led by the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) with support from the French Development Agency (AFD) under the French Global Environment Facility (FFEM). SAMPAN aims to achieve sustainable coastal management by passing on awareness, knowledge and skills to organizations and people who will collaboratively work for biodiversity conservation and sustainable tourism. This will create new tourism standards to minimize environmental impacts in three Andaman marine National Parks namely Mu KoSurin National Park, Mu KoSimilan National Park, and Mu KoLanta National Park.
2.1 How to shoot a whale shark with a camera(DOTs shooting technique) An individual whale shark can be identified by the shape and markings on body as their unique dots pattern like human fingerprints.  Shooting photographs of the patterning of each whale shark is useful to distinguish between individuals. The information can help predict the population size and food sources of whale shark in Thailand. This will help us understand more the vulnerable and highly migratory species and to take specific action to protect them and their habitats. 2.2 The most important things when shooting photo of a whale shark 1. Follow the “whale shark code of conduct”  as       1) Keep diving group sizes small to reduce impact on other animals or coral reefs.       2) Never chase, touch or ride whale sharks as they will get frightened and swim away.       3) Keep watching calmly.       4) Keep distance between you and the whale sharks (maintain a minimum distance of 3 metres from the Whale Shark) and back off if it is becoming stressed.       5) Do not attempt to touch or ride a Whale Shark.       6) Do not feed whale sharks as it will change their behaviour.       (Source: Whale Shark Project http://www.whalesharkproject.org) 2. Observe whale shark’s behavior, sex and size and record the data on the Sighting data sheet. 3. Know the correct landmarks that you must shoot.       1) Photographic left side dots pattern of whale shark will be scanned into LANTA database and used to identify a sighted whale shark. The photograph is then contributed to international photo-identification; the ECOCEAN and Shark Trust research databases to match with thousands of previous sighted whale sharks within their library.       2) Dots area from the base of the dorsal fin to the bottom of the last gill slit is needed.       3) Shoot the photograph perpendicular to the dots area.       4) Photographs of any marks or scars on the head, fins and body can help scientists to easily identify the individuals. 4. The captured frame from video can be submitted. 5. Submit photographs or video to LANTAWHALESHARKDOTS (Ref. www.lantawhalesharkDOTs.org)