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New CMBB paper finds major aggregations of whale sharks in Qatari waters


A new paper has just been published in PlOS One, led by CMBB PhD Student David Robinson, following the discovery of a major aggregation site for whale sharks within the Al Shaheen oil field, 90 km off the coast of Qatar in the Arabian Gulf.

David is conducting research as part of the Qatar Whale Shark Research Project, a collaboration of government, industry and academia founded in 2010 to investigate anecdotal reports of large numbers of whale sharks seen in the Al Shaheen Oil field, Qatar. The project was originally founded by the Qatar Ministry of Environment and Heriot-Watt University Ph.D. student David Robinson who is currently researching whale shark ecology in the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. In 2012, Maersk Oil became a partner in the research project and added the use of their research and technology division to the project.


Every year, the world's largest fish aggregate in huge numbers in the Al Shaheen oil field off the coast of Qatar. In the summer months, more than one hundred and fifty whale sharks have been spotted feeding in the warm surface waters of the Arabian Gulf. Although the sharks have been observed by local fishermen and offshore platform workers for years, the magnitude of this natural wonder has only just recently been realised. The presence of large numbers of whale sharks in the central part of the Arabian Gulf was an unexpected finding because the sea surface temperatures can reach up to 34 degrees celsius in the summer, above what was believed to be the comfort zone of whale sharks.

Whale shark surveys to the Al Shaheen field began in April 2011. On the first research trip the team attached a satellite tag to an 8 metre female they named 'Amna'. This was the first satellite tag deployed by the QWSRP and also the first satellite tag deployed on a wild and free-swimming whale shark anywhere in the Arabian Gulf or Gulf of Oman. The QWSRP team works closely with the Qatar Coast Guard to access the Shaheen field, where public access and fishing is banned. To date, 35 whale sharks have been satellite tagged in Qatar and around 50 acoustic tags have been deployed together with a local acoustic receiver array.

The PlOS One paper details the first year of research and initial findings of the project. The paper describes the size and details of the aggregations of sharks encountered, the observations from offshore platform workers and the results of plankton sampling. The paper also includes the results of the genetic bar coding of fish eggs thought to be the primary food source for the sharks in the area and the reason why the aggregations occur.

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