Bella the whale shark leads scientists into deep waters

A satellite tracker attached to one of the whale sharks gathered off St Helena in early 2014 has begun sending signals to scientists – and the movements of the creature, nicknamed Bella, can be followed on the internet.

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 00.09.45The reading for 30 January 2014 shows Bella some 60 kilometres or more to the south-east of the island, but she was meandering much closer in shore when transmissions began.

The tag sends a signal whenever Bella breaks the surface. The readings will help test a theory that developed after a pregnant whale shark was tagged off Mexico, as the researchers’ website explains:

“A female whale shark satellite-tagged off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula travelled through the northern Caribbean Sea and across the equator to the South Atlantic Ocean, a distance of more than 7,200 km in 150 days.

“We hypothesize this journey to the open waters of the mid-Atlantic was to give birth to her young, for she appeared to be pregnant when tagged off Mexico. In support of this hypothesis, direct observations of large, pregnant-looking female whale sharks have recently been reported in the waters off St Helena.”

Whale sharks have been present in small numbers off St Helena for many years, but 17 were spotted in island waters in the summer of 2012/13, and that number is estimated to have doubled a year later.

The environment department is urging divers to stay at least three metres away from the giant but harmless creatures.

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