02 January 2009
Gulf of Tadjoura, Djibouti
A whale shark scarred by a propeller strike swims in the Gulf of Tadjoura, off the coast of Djibouti.
Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are slow-moving, filter-feeding sharks found in tropical and warm oceans, and are the largest non-mammalian vertebrates on the planet. The species originated some 60 million years ago, and individuals normally have a lifespan of around 70 years.
Currently, however, whale sharks are listed as a vulnerable species. They come under particular threat from pollution and strikes by boat propellers, and are also hunted for their fins and flesh.
Whale sharks off the coast of Djibouti exhibit one of the highest rates of scarring in the world. This is largely due to the speeding boats of a multinational task-force involved in the fight against piracy in the region. Yet the presence of these boats also acts to the sharks’ advantage, in that it deters shark-fishing fleets from entering their habitat.