The First ever Arabia's Whale Shark Research Syposium and Workshop

Published December 16th, 2009 - 10:57 GMT

The venue chosen for this event is the 5 star “Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort”, Fujairah, UAE. Situated on the shores of the Arabian Sea, LMAA have offered us a generous sponsorship package for the event.

This pre-event day will be used to receive all guest speakers and delegates. In the afternoon, a meeting will be held between all participants and organizers in order to form and sign the ASWSRP (Arabian Seas Whale Shark Research Program) declaration that will be launched during the event.

DECEMBER 11th | DAY 1 | 40 minute & 30 minute presentations:
Featuring a series of informative presentations by key guest speakers from throughout the Arabian Sea basin involved in whale shark research & conservation. These presentations will feature an overview of their work, status, issues and findings, etc. This day is designed to create an overview of whale shark research/conservation from across the Arabian Sea and to highlight the missing link represented by the absence of information from the Arab World.

Guest speakers for day 1 are:

• Azzedine Downes (Vice President, International, IFAW)
• Chris Clarke (Executive Director, SOSF)
• Dr. David Rowat (MCSS-Seychelles & Djibouti)
• Dr. Brad Norman (ECOCEAN - Australia)
• Dr. Simon Pierce (Mozambique)
• Dr. Brent Stewart (Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute, USA)
• Richard Reese & Morgan Riley (MWSRP- Maldives)
• Guy Stevens (MMRP- Maldives)
• Vivek Menon (Wildlife Trust - India)
• Abdul Rahim (MCWC - Pakistan)

Debate: At the end of the day, we shall create a forum of discussion through a debate.

Workshop 1 – Dr. David Rowat
A workshop on the use of I3S software and skills required to create a Photo ID Database. This will feature a full explanation on how it works, how image acquisition leads to data and how individuals can contribute towards the database.

Workshop 2 – Dr. Brad Norman
A workshop on how to integrate regional information into the global library and database maintained by Ecocean.

A series of other regionally relevant shark 20 minute presentations:

• Red Sea Silky Sharks (Chris Clarke - SOSF)
• Sharks in Kuwait (Dareen AlMojil - KERA)
• Sharks in Oman (Dr. Aaron Henderson - SQU)
• Protection of sharks in the UAE (Dr. Elsayed Mohammed, IFAW)

Summary & Debate: How far must conservation go to save sharks?

The 1st Arabian Seas Whale Shark Research Symposium & Workshop on December 11th & 12th, 2009, will be a truly globally important and unprecedented event.

Our aim is to create an event that acts as a platform of communication and forum of discussion between researchers studying Arabian Sea whale sharks with the aim to determine relationships and connections between Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean whale shark populations.

As such, we are currently organizing the "1st Arabian Sea Whale Shark Research Symposium and Workshop" in the UAE during the weekend of December 11th and 12th, to be held in the United Arab Emirates at the Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort in Fujairah; enabling members of the diving community and industry to attend.

Both days of the event are open to the region’s diving industry, diving community, Government sectors and conservation authorities, NGO’s, Schools, Universities, Colleges and general public as a whole. Access to attend and participate in the Symposium and Workshop is free for both days. The hotel is offering special rates for anyone interested to stay overnight between day 1 and 2. Our intention is to turn this event into a whale shark festival that celebrates the uniqueness of this flagship threatened species.

As event organizers, we are in the process of making a film that highlights the links between the Arabian Sea’s whale shark hotspots and defines the overall role of Arabia’s whale sharks in context with the overall Indian Ocean population. We are trying to identify the missing links that are currently absent from the global picture, asking questions such as “Why are most whale sharks in the Arabian Sea juveniles? Why do whale sharks form predominantly single sex aggregations in the Maldives and Djibouti? Are the females here in the Arabian Gulf and Straits of Hormuz? Is the Northern Arabian Sea in fact the main pupping site for the Indian Ocean? Why are Baluchi and Omani fishermen catching neonatal whale sharks in their waters? Where are the main breeding grounds”? etc.

As such, we are attempting to understand whether the whale shark populations that exist around the margins of the Arabian Sea basin are intrinsically linked; using these areas as nurseries and maybe eventually becoming the adults that will populate the central and Southern Indian Ocean as they mature and spread South. In order to present this emerging portrayal of whale sharks, we aim to film in all relevant Arabian Sea hotspots, including Oman, Djibouti, Maldives, Seychelles, India, Pakistan/Baluchistan, UAE and Kuwait. In each location, we intend to feature the actual work of researchers and conservationists, all of whom have confirmed participation in our proposed event.

As part of this whale shark film development, we saw the need to help create a platform for all of the fragmented and previously relatively isolated research projects to start communicating and sharing data and resources as part of a regional Arabian Sea network. To that end, we are hosting the first Arabian Sea Whale Shark Research Symposium and Workshop designed to introduce the regional status of whale sharks into a platform of debate and presentations to the Arab World counterparts and stakeholders. This is designed to stimulate and focus regional interest from within the scientific and conservation communities throughout the Arab world. We will also launch the AWSRP (Arabian Whale Shark Research Program) Photo ID Database designed to involve the Arab World’s diving, fishing and boating communities in order to initiate input from this region adding data that will aid other regional researchers already employing the I3S system or ECOCEAN's global database.

Invitations are being sent through our partner NGO's (SOSF, IFAW & EDA) & Dive Centers (Al Boom Marine & Scuba Dubai) targeting regional researchers and conservation authorities, Government officials, Coast Guard, regional NGO's, the region's diving industry & community and all media. In light of the enormous community and media interest generated by the capture of a female whale shark in September 2008 by a prestigious Dubai hotel, we know that this event will generate a lot of press coverage.

Although the fate of "Sammy" remains unclear as she remains in the hotel aquarium over one year later, this event is dedicated to her.

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