The secret double life of Ningaloo’s whale sharks has been discovered by Murdoch University scientist Brad Norman and his Swansea University (UK) colleague Professor Rory Wilson.
In a world-first scientific discovery, the two Laureates of the international Rolex Awards for Enterprise have revealed that whale sharks undertake astonishing dive and ascent behaviour to conserve energy. This type of behaviour has not been quantitatively recorded in sharks or fish before.
Murdoch scientist Brad Norman says the dynamic bounding underwater ‘flight’ of the world’s biggest fish contrasts with its reputation as a slow, surface cruiser.
The collaborating researchers discoveredthe whale sharks’ double life while recording their actions on electronic wildlife monitors at Ningaloo in May.
The pair – who have worked together since meeting at the 2006 Rolex Awards - have been able to record the giant creatures’ every swimming action in minute detail (eight times a second).
Mr Norman says the new technology will in time reveal how and where the whale sharks feed and breed, enabling those areas to be protected from human activity and pollution.
“This research offers us an incredible window into how they live and what they do when out of our sight,” he says.
“This information will be vital in helping protect this magnificent, but threatened species.”
The collaborative whale shark research is being supported by Australian basketball champion Luc Longley who lent his 20 metre vessel to the project, by Murdoch University, and co-sponsored by Rolex, National Geographic and the non-profit group ECOCEAN.
Murdoch’s Brad Norman received his Rolex Award for his project employing members of the community worldwide to help study and protect whale sharks using the online global photo ID library he helped develop.
Professor Wilson won his Rolex Award for his electronic wildlife monitor, which is helping to reveal the private lives of more than 50 wild animal and bird species.
Murdoch University hopes to fund additional researchers to support the whale shark conservation research at Ningaloo.