Undersea Constellations: The Global Biology of an Endangered Marine Megavertebrate Further Informed through Citizen Science

Abstract
The whale shark is an ideal flagship species for citizen science projects because of its charismatic nature, its size, and the associated ecotourism ventures focusing on the species at numerous coastal aggregation sites. An online database of whale shark encounters, identifying individuals on the basis of their unique skin patterning, captured almost 30,000 whale shark encounter reports from 1992 to 2014, with more than 6000 individuals identified from 54 countries. During this time, the number of known whale shark aggregation sites (hotspots) increased from 13 to 20. Examination of photo-identification data at a global scale revealed a skewed sex-ratio bias toward males (overall, more than 66%) and high site fidelity among individuals, with limited movements of sharks between neighboring countries but no records confirming large, ocean basin-scale migrations. Citizen science has been vital in amassing large spatial and temporal data sets to elucidate key aspects of whale shark life history and demographics and will continue to provide substantial long-term value.

Citation
Norman BM, Holmberg JA, Arzoumanian Z, Reynolds SD, Wilson RP, et al. (2017) Undersea Constellations: The Global Biology of an Endangered Marine Megavertebrate Further Informed through Citizen Science. BioScience 67: 1029–1043. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix127.

Acknowledgements
This research has made use of data and software tools provided by Wildbook for Whale Sharks, an online mark–recapture database operated by the nonprofit scientific organization Wild Me, with support from public donations and the Qatar Whale Shark Research Project. Special thanks are extended to the Rolex Awards for Enterprise for its recognition and support of this project and all persons who over the years have submitted whale shark sighting data and identification images to ECOCEAN and Wildbook. In addition, we gratefully acknowledge the support from the various volunteers who have assisted with the data collection and analysis used in this manuscript.

Publisher
Oxford University Press (OUP)

Journal
BioScience

DOI
10.1093/biosci/bix127

Additional Links
https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/67/12/1029/4641655

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