My short bio: I am a founder of Wildbook for Whale Sharks (http://www.whaleshark.org) and its Information Architect. I help manage a global community of 90+ researchers and volunteers studying the world's largest and most mysterious fish: the whale shark! We are an excellent example of citizen science and high technology, combining NASA-inspired pattern recognition systems and global data collection from the dive community. The recent discovery of a whale shark slaughterhouse has potentially far-ranging impacts for the species.

You can support our research and conservation efforts through our IndieGogo.com campaign to bring wildlife into social media by exposing scientific data as easy-to-understand social media profiles:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/wild-me-bringing-wildlife-into-social-media/x/5776235

UPDATE:

Some context for the 600 whale sharks/year figure for this slaughterhouse.

Estimated annual size of the Ningaloo Reef whale shark population: approx. 200

Estimated size of a Seychelles population: approx. 400

Sources: http://www.int-res.com/articles/esr2009/7/n007p039.pdf http://www.seaturtle.org/PDF/RowatD_2009_Oryx.pdf

But it is important to note that this fishery has not yet been linked to any known whale shark aggregation. Clearly the authors of the report suggest it, and it may be true, but we don't have evidence of such.

UPDATE 2: These are great questions being asked. Here is an incentive for more. If you ask a good questions, I will ask you to give me a nickname for a real shark under study. I will respond with a link so you can see the research data about that animal and your nickname. These are real sharks that may live 60-100 years bearing your nickname. So choose carefully!

Update 3: Video inside the slaughterhouse from the WildRisk group is here: http://vimeo.com/84925609

My Proof: http://www.whaleshark.org

Comments: 250 • Responses: 77  • Date: 

FinanceITGuy69 karma

Given Reddit's history, what is it going to take to get one of these whale sharks nicknamed Mr. Splashypants?

holmbergius117 karma

http://www.whaleshark.org/individuals.jsp?number=BZ-014

OK, now how do I email everyone on Reddit when this whale shark shows up again?

holmbergius23 karma

Thank you!

brunub29 karma

Hello sir, welcome to reddit! Why is the whale shark targeted specifically? It seems like a logistical nightmare!

holmbergius44 karma

That's an excellent question. The logistical nightmare of moving and chopping up the shark is counter-balanced by the potential income: potentially USD 31000 for the fishermen and a net value of all the parts of a few hundred thousand. These are estimates but likely not too far off the mark. They are also slow moving and spend a fair amount of time near the surface, thus if sighted they could be easy prey for fishermen equipped to hunt them.

johnnytightlips215 karma

Where is the market for these sharks?

holmbergius32 karma

Largely Asia for the fins. But the latest WildRisk report suggests that some byproducts may be making their way to Europe and and elsewhere. Check out the Vimeo link above.

lilyaqha27 karma

Has anyone been accidentally swallowed by one? I've always wondered this.

holmbergius44 karma

No, the mouth is large but the entrance to the digestive system is very small. They get their sustenance from filter feeding and could not get you into their stomach even if they wanted to.

teamfabmom24 karma

What is one amazing fact about the whale shark most people aren't aware of?

holmbergius69 karma

I can give you a few!

We have never recorded birth. We don't even know where it happens!

We have never recorded mating. We don't know where and when it happens, and whale sharks have some clearly segregated migration routes. For example, large, potentially pregnant females seem to appear with no males in the Fall off the Galapagos Islands. Where they come from and where they go to give birth is a complete mystery!

holmbergius40 karma

Only one migration route (start to finish) for one shark has ever been mapped with a satellite tag. Satellite tages tend to fail or fall off very quickly when attached.

holmbergius48 karma

They can dive to several thousand feet several times per day, but we don't know how deep. 1280m is the record so far, but that was when the archiving tag (placed by Dr. Simon Pierce) ejected itself to avoid being crushed at depth.

holmbergius44 karma

Whale sharks are roughly estimated to live 60-120 years, and females can grow in excess of 40 feet over that time.

holmbergius51 karma

Whale sharks < 4 meters are rarely sighted (maybe once or twice per year), despite the fact that a large female can give birth to 300+.

We simply don't know where the pups and nurseries are.

twistedfork10 karma

How do you know? You said earlier there has never been a recorded birth, how do you know they can give birth to 300+?

holmbergius35 karma

From a necropsy of a large pregnant female:

Joung, Shoou-Jeng et al. (July 1996). "The whale shark, Rhincodon typus, is a livebearer: 300 embryos found in one ‘megamamma’ supreme". Environ. Biol. Fish. 46 (3): 219–223. doi:10.1007/BF00004997.

holmbergius19 karma

But like so many things for whale sharks: we have one data point.

holmbergius16 karma

And please send a nickname if you want to give a real shark a nickname!

twistedfork6 karma

What if they are little cannibals like tiger sharks?

holmbergius21 karma

They are filter feeders, so I would be surprised if that occurred. I view the large # of pups as a strategy for neonate high mortality.

electric_sandwich12 karma

We have never recorded birth. We don't even know where it happens!

Eh, are you really a scientist? Pretty obvious that they give birth in the ocean.

holmbergius22 karma

OK, OK, you have me there. We can be that specific. :)

triplebincf20 karma

What drew you to this research?

holmbergius49 karma

I saw my first whale shark off the coast of Djibouti in 2002. I was just a diver, and we saw an 8 foot juvenile. I was amazed at its beauty, and I noticed the spot patterning on the side and how it appeared somewhat random. I had spare time on my hands, and so I began working on a pattern recognition system to map their spots into a database, much like a human fingerprint. Eventually, I teamed up with a colleague at NASA (Zaven Arzoumanian, pulsar astronomer), and we found a software algorithm developed for matching star patterns in pictures of the night sky. It turns out that matching photos of stars is much the same as matching photos of the spot patterns of whale sharks, and we modified the algorithm to become a new way of tagging whale sharks with high accuracy over long time periods.

holmbergius24 karma

Before image-based identification, physical tagging was required. And the plastic tags often fell off or fouled up within a year, so there was no way to identify individual animals and do a proper mark-recapture study to estimate population sizes.

holmbergius32 karma

As a diver and software developer, working on the pattern recognition system drew me into the research. SO I am actually an "extreme" citizen scientist, holding down a day job yet doing whale shark researcher and wildlife software development at night. I have published papers and help to coordinate the global research community over at whaleshark.org.

And we are getting science done! Check out some of our papers here:

http://www.whaleshark.org/publications.jsp

holmbergius23 karma

The software we use for whale sharks is now open source and being used for other species. Check out: http://www.wildme.org/wildbook.

laurandisorder8 karma

There is something about this that is just awesome! From your first experience with the whale shark to working out a way to track them based on their patterns and markings.

You have just inspired me to take a trip up to Ningaloo. I have always been fascinated by sharks - all kinds (Neptune Island is also on my list) and I would love to see one of these magnificent creatures in the wild.

Do you have any experience with other kinds of sharks - or are you more of a one-fish kind of guy??

holmbergius17 karma

Mostly a one-fish kind of guy, though I am getting pretty excited to use my software on a wild dog project (painted dog) in Africa. Don't know why, but wild dogs and whale sharks "are cool" (said in Matt Smith's Dr. Who voice.)

Thank you for your interest!

holmbergius8 karma

Thank you very much for the reddit gold! This is awesome!

orangeshoeskid8 karma

That is so cool. I grew up wanting to be a marine biologist and would love to do what you do. Different paths were taken and now I'm going to be an elementary teacher, with a main goal to get kids excited about science and the ocean.

holmbergius2 karma

Thank you for what you do then. You, more than me, have the ability to instill wonder in children. There are so many beautiful things yet to discover in Nature, and children should know that they are an amazing part of a dynamic ecosystem.

Misaniovent2 karma

Could this work with Dalmations?

holmbergius3 karma

True story: I once submitted a fake presentation abstract to a conference claiming that I had spliced whale shark DNA into a white dog. I sent a picture of a spotted dalmation as proof. :)

sinverguenza14 karma

Does your group have citizen science volunteer opportunities? I volunteered with the RJ Dunlap group in Miami after an AMA from a Shark Biologist who works with them and it was incredibly fun and rewarding!

Whale Sharks are my favorite sharks, and I'd love to help!

holmbergius19 karma

We always need help managing submitted data, such as mapping spots and running pattern recognition scans, which can be done from home. If you have an educational, project management, or software development background, we really need help. We run whaleshark.org on several thousand dollars a year...that's right: global-scale research on a few dollars a day. We are really short on resources but manage to accomplish quite a bit any way. But we always need help.

For those of you who can't volunteer, please consider a donation to our social media for wildlife project: Wild Me

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/wild-me-bringing-wildlife-into-social-media/x/5776235

If you are interested in the things above that I have said, please email [email protected]

THANK YOU! Jason

Oranguthang13 karma

For a recreational diver, where/when would be the best place/time to swim with whale sharks?

holmbergius28 karma

There are a lot of great tourism spots, and if you take photos, you can directly contribute data to our research at whaleshark.org. We will even email you whenever your sighted shark is resighted.

Some known areas:

Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia: April-July

Utila, Honduras: Year round

Tofo, Mozambique: Year round

Yucatan, Mexico: July, August, September.

Baja Peninsula, Mexico: Sept.-December

Belize, Maldives, Seychelles, and others.

If you email [email protected], I could send you a chart for your region of interest showing peak sighting times.

Quellman6 karma

The follow up is, do you reach out to local dive tours or shops in those areas letting them know that photos would be useful to your organization? If not, why? Is it a funding thing? I would think a few nice emails or phone calls, maybe even a site visit couldn't hurt.

You should be sure to pick a few spots and market to them. Create a partnership of sorts. Might be a reciprocating links between the sites, or a sticker for them to put on their diver ships as a 'Whale Shark friendly tour helping provide research data' etc.

holmbergius8 karma

About half our data annually comes from dive shops and tourism. We actually get a significant amount of data from YouTube even, tagging whale sharks from video frame grabs of their spot patterning as posted. As long as we know where and when, we can use it! All in all we receive almost 4000 usable sighting reports each year from the research and tourism communities combined, and scientists get a data boost from collaborating with others and getting the sightings from the public. But there are lots of places we still need to reach. I am still trying to make a contact in Panama for the aggregation sighted there about this time of year.

lumpking692 karma

Any chance they ever get close to the coast of NJ? lol

holmbergius1 karma

Theoretically possible but never witnessed...that I know of. But there is at least one report up in Canada. You never know.

confusedblues13 karma

What is your opinion on whale sharks in captivity?

holmbergius44 karma

Herein I am a self-confessed and conflicted hypocrite. I have been out in the press against it. Whale sharks are massively migratory and can dive very deep each day, often making multiple dives. So even a large tank is so very small in comparison to their behaviors and range.

But I take my children to zoos and aquariums. And seeing a whale shark...while stunning and unforgettable in the wild...even in an aquarium, it is pretty cool.

Over the course of the last year, I have gotten to know some of the research staff at the Georgia Aquarium, and their heads and hearts are in the right places. And they do support on-site and captivity research, including some metabolic studies that we just couldn't do in the wild, such as studying blood chemistry to determine stress levels.

So...my opinion is: let's not make a habit of it. But if it is done, let's get some valuable science out of it.

MagicPiper9 karma

Are whale sharks ever released from captivity? I could agree with your point on research if we return them to their rightful homes. Otherwise it's just cruel.

holmbergius10 karma

One was released from Dubai:

http://my.telegraph.co.uk/expat/annabelkantaria/10142764/will-we-ever-know-what-happened-to-sammy-the-whale-shark/

and even though we could have used the photos to track its return and how well it did, they were never provided. :(

I would love to see them all released after a period of time and to study their survival and movement after. We don't know very much about their migration, so I don't know how well a returned whale shark would do in terms of returning to a migratory pattern that would ensure it gets to necessary food sources.

death_to_all_humans7 karma

[deleted]

holmbergius11 karma

You are absolutely right.

That will be an interesting question for the Georgia Aquarium over time. They had some initial deaths but now seem to have a good sense of whale shark husbandry. How big can a whale shark grow in their tank? I don't think anyone knows.

confusedblues7 karma

Thanks for the reply. One follow up, if you don't mind. How intelligent do you think they are relative to large marine mammals?

holmbergius34 karma

I have no way of measuring their intelligence in any meaningful way. But let me give you an example: they can land on a food pulse (e.g., spawning) on exactly the right day of the year at exactly the right spot and then vanish. They make long distance migrations and know where to be exactly when.

They can grow up to 40+ feet in length, and at that size, there is not much (beyond humans) that can hurt them. I don't know how such a large creature even perceives the world. We are small to it. It can dive deep and travel far. It may live over 60 years and take multiple migration routes along the way, possibly using the earth's magnetic field for navigation.

Henry Beston captured animal intelligenbce best:

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” ― Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod

holmbergius14 karma

This quote was part of the inspiration for the Wild Me social media project we are undertaking, trying to find a way to tell the stories of these animals and their lives as collected and assembled through scientific research:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/wild-me-bringing-wildlife-into-social-media/x/5776235

holmbergius11 karma

And great question! Please send a whale shark nickname.

spiny_dogfish11 karma

that quote reminds me of a time i encountered a black bear, in particular a very large bull in the middle of the night knocking over "bear proof" garbage receptacles. i tried very hard not to let him know i was there, because once i saw what was making the noise i just wanted to watch him. he heard or smelled me pretty quickly though at around 40-50 ft away, and just the brief appraisal he gave me before going back to his business was incredibly... humbling. from that time and a few other encounters with bears, i just get the impression that they are very "equal" to me. they just live these silent separate lives in the natural world.

holmbergius26 karma

I have often told the story of how I had a very personal,very long duration solo dive with a giant manta ray off La Paz, Mexico in 2002. One of my photos from it is a long-time my favorite...the white underbelly of the manta and the deep blue below. How often does an animal in the wild expose its underbelly to you? This amazing manta swam close to me, slowing its pace for me to keep up as I kicked like mad to follow it through several slow turns.

We swam literally inches apart at times, and when I was out of breath and had to surface to take in deep gulps of air, it waited 20 feet below me, gliding in large graceful circles, until I replaced my regulator in my mouth and dove again. We swam together more. It was patient as I struggled to follow this strange but beautiful dance.

Mantas are very alien things by appearance, but I saw something intelligent, something conscious looking back at me. Perhaps this was the first spark of the idea of Wild Me, and I am hoping to have this manta resighted some day over on MantaMatcher.org and learn more of its history through Wild Me.

nofferty8 karma

That's an amazing quote.

holmbergius7 karma

Henry Beston was well ahead of his time. :)

0l01o1ol03 karma

Do filter feeders like whale sharks and whales ever compete or fight over feeding grounds? Do they interact interspecies at all?

holmbergius2 karma

Not that I am aware of.

holmbergius5 karma

And awesome question by the way!

urdunkid11 karma

Have you got bitten by sharks?

holmbergius16 karma

Not whale sharks. They have 3000+ teeth, but they are all tiny. They don't bite since they are filter feeders (eating plankton), but even if you put your hand in their mouth, it would just scrape up your skin.

reptilianhuman7 karma

Not whale sharks.

Hmm, so this is a yes to other species? ;)

holmbergius12 karma

Not yet! Have been in the water with hammerheads, silky sharks, and white and black tip reef sharks. Great and very safe species to dive with.

reptilianhuman6 karma

You're very lucky. When I was younger, I wanted to be a marine biologist so I could do the same thing but now I don't know what to do with my life anymore. It's disappointing but it's so cool to see other people do what they want to do.

Also, don't worry :) I was just messing with you about the bites.

holmbergius29 karma

What if I told you that I have spent the last decade doing whale shark research because I also didn't know what to do with my life? So I picked something I was curious about and jumped. Not all of us know what we want to be, so in the mean time, I have tried to be productive and at least follow my curiosity. In my case, I have an engineering background, and my software and technical skills have allowed me to be a contributing member to the whale shark research community. I don't have the traditional marine biology background you might expect, nor do I believe that a degree should be a blocker to your curiosity.

anxiousalpaca11 karma

What would be a consequence of whale sharks being extinct?

holmbergius13 karma

Excellent question. No one really knows. The resulting loss of diversity may not show up immediately, and it may only contribute to a tipping point beyond which there is no recovery for an ecosystem.

Personally there would be the loss of wonder. Whale sharks are a great unknown. They spend most of their lives at depths and distances beyond our easy observation. We are lucky to see them when we do, and in seeing them and comprehending how little we...as technologically advanced as we are...how little we actually understand about them....well, it is humbling. And for curious people like me, it is motivating. It is a nut that no one has cracked yet, giving those of us who try a chance to feel unique in our efforts and ourselves. This mystery will yield to us, and in doing so, we will have played our part.

oreng10 karma

Total aside: never heard of wildbook before now, snooped around a bit and it's an amazing project! Any particular features you feel it's lacking in case I decide to mess about with the sources?

holmbergius9 karma

Yes, and thank you for your interest!

Check out this example of a sperm whale:

http://www.oceansmart.org/individuals.jsp?number=5727

As we move into the world of "Big Data", we are correspondingly getting more and more wildlife sighting data from citizen scientists and..eventually...from drones.

The fact that the page shows an animal with 412 sightings also causes it to load slow and to lose its informative focus by focusing on a long table of details.

Do you have any AJAX experience? I was thinking of switching these to load on demand and display:

a) by default as a javascript timeline, such as Timeglider: http://timeglider.com/widget/?p=intro

b) optionally still as a table but one that is paged (e.g., JavaScript DataTables)

Beyond that, the biggest barrier to Wildbook is that it is web-based and requires Tomcat to run. Most biologists struggle with that, even with directions. Wrapping Tomcat and the webapp in an EXE installer would really help biologists set it up quickly to play with it before eventually moving it to a cloud server for production-level research.

Or check out this rough roadmap:

http://www.wildme.org/wildbook/doku.php?id=wiki:todolist

What interests you?

oreng3 karma

Usually for something like this I'd recommend tailoring an optimized VM and distributing that along with instructions for getting it up and running in VirtualBox rather than an installer. It's far simpler than going through the regular installation procedure and none of the steps are remotely complicated.

After that's up and running I could perhaps whip together an installer for the VM+VirtualBox bundle.

Sound good?

holmbergius7 karma

SOUNDS AWESOME!

holmbergius5 karma

[email protected]

Let's talk!

holmbergius10 karma

Here is the now working vimeo link for the slaughterhouse report from WildRisk:

http://vimeo.com/84925609

Robyp8710 karma

Do you take fish oil supplements?

holmbergius21 karma

I don't. But that is not activism of any sort. I probably should, and if I knew where they were sourced from, I even might...after re-confirming their health benefits with a bit of reading and talking to my doctor. But the revelation of this slaughterhouse makes me wonder how well we can be sure of the contents of such.

Timbuk3_9816 karma

Flax oil omega 3 is chemically identical, so we don't need to take fish oil to "take fish oil".

holmbergius10 karma

Thank you! I learned something new!

maqattack7 karma

Why is it wrong to kill whale sharks? There are slaughterhouses for a lot of animals that humans eat on a daily basis. Whale sharks themselves kill and eat smaller fishes. So why is it wrong when a human kills a whale shark?

holmbergius28 karma

Is it wrong to eat fish? No. Is it sustainable to kill and eat whale sharks? No. It takes a whale shark many years to reach sexual maturity (about what it takes humans), and their ability to reproduce to fill the void left by fishing is limited therefore. As suggested by this video, a slaughterhouse can process 600/year. See my population estimates above for an example of how easily a slaughterhouse could wipe out entire populations in Australia (200 sharks), the Seychelles (400), and elsewhere in a single year if fishermen began taking them. We live in an age where our technology can quickly remove long-lived animals from the wild and nature cannot likely replace them quickly enough to maintain numbers for future years. Given that we don't know very much about the population off China, there would be no way to set an kind of policy for the number that could be taken per year yet leave a sustainable population. Given that they are not a critical nutritional source for any population and that their primary product (shark fins for soup) has no real nutritional value, there's simply no need to fish them nor any way to do so responsibly.

paiche6 karma

Thank you for making the critical leap from science to advocacy and education. The whale shark is one of my favorite sea citizens and it disturbed me to hear about the slaughter house. I hope people start to get as worked up over this as the dolphin slaughtering in Taiji.

How do whale sharks know where to go for food? Do they follow water temperatures?

holmbergius8 karma

Unknown, but whatever the exact mechanism, they know exactly where and when to be there.

BRINGTHEPLAIN6 karma

I swam with whale sharks last summer in the Gulf of Mexico, it was the most incredible and humble experience of my life so far. To be able to interact and study them on a regular basis must be one of the greatest jobs available. Congratulations and good luck on your continuing success!

holmbergius8 karma

Thank you! It is an incredible species to study, but it is a slow, uphill battle to learn anything as they spend so much time deep or far offshore where they are difficult to observe.

swimcool086 karma

hi, so i did my undergraduate thesis on the International Whaling Commission, and basically how broken it is and how it doesn't work at all anymore. With how little china tends to listen to international organizations, do you see any hope of china stopping this practice? or is it going to take a large amount of international pressure to stop them from basically wiping out this species?

holmbergius6 karma

I have been hearing from shark conservation groups that they are having success getting the message out in China of the damage that shark fin soup causes to shark populations. I think onsite NGOs stand the best chance of making a dent in consumption there. If there is demand, there will always be a black market. Reduce demand, and what catch is taken can hopefully be small enough to have little impact.

TheCrakkFox6 karma

Have you, or would you ever try shark fin soup? I'm guessing that is a probable "no" but thought I would ask anyway.

holmbergius19 karma

I have not. I would not. I have walked out of restaurants serving it. I am certain that it makes me a hypocrite based on other foods I might eat and their environmental impact, but I have to draw a line somewhere for those things I am informed about.

keenan35735 karma

I swam with whale sharks last summer I the Gulf of Mexico, it was the most incredible and humble experience of my life so far. To be able to interact and study them on a regular basis must be one of the greatest jobs available. Congratulations and good luck on your continuing success.

holmbergius3 karma

Thank you! It is enjoyable work.

Ajhalonen5 karma

How did you know you wanted to be a marine biologist? What do you recommend that myself, as a high school student, do to get involved in marine biology?

holmbergius8 karma

Great questions!

Here is the fun part. My background is in Chemical Engineering (B.S.) and Arab Studies (M.A.). I do whale shark research because I love it and because I have some software and information design skills that allow me to coordinate a global research community online. I took a passion for diving and sharks, IT skills, carved a niche, and made a place for myself...with some surprisingly warm reception from the traditional scientific research community.

I never knew that I wanted to be a marine biologist, and even though I do the work of one and work with them, I am not formally trained as one. I still don't know what I want to be, and I don't think it is any one thing. When talking to students, I tell them to do what they must, what they can't help but do, and in doing it passionately they will find a way to make a job out of it. I still like the traditional degree system as it helps build critical thinking and problem solving. But where and how you apply that problem solving should not be limited by the degree.

From a more practical perspective, find a marine biologist that needs help. Many tasks don't need the academic background but rather actual physical assistance or organizational skills (e.g., data management) and get the experience and connections. From a position of experience, you will probably have a lot more choice in the academic route you take and a lot more wisdom about it.

Just my two cents though.

holmbergius5 karma

And please send me a whale shark nickname!

Ajhalonen4 karma

Would "Fast Eddy" work? It's what my great grandpa used to call my dad as a child.

holmbergius4 karma

Here is Fast Eddy:

http://www.whaleshark.org/individuals.jsp?number=H-025

If you want me to associate your real name with the nickname, please send me as email at [email protected] and include the link above. I can also add your email address into our system so that you get automated emails of resightings of this specific shark.

BluesFan432 karma

BluesFan43

Of course

holmbergius4 karma

http://www.whaleshark.org/individuals.jsp?number=H-031

If you PM me your name and/or email address, I can associate your name with the nickname and your email address will receive automated updates of any resightings.

This is a pretty cool shark tracked between Honduras and Mexico for several years.

overhandthrowaway5 karma

What's your favorite color?

More seriously, have you spent time researching other marine life? If so, what was it?

holmbergius11 karma

I have worked with other researchers using my Wildbook open source software:

http://www.wildme.org/wildbook

They are using it for:

Humpback whales: http://www.wildbookdna.org

Sperm whales: http://www.oceansmart.org

Polar bears: http://www.polarbearlibrary.org

Giant Manta Rays: http://www.mantamatcher.org

But whale sharks are the only species where I have delved into the data and made scientific publications:

http://www.whaleshark.org/publications.jsp

Favorite color: blue! Was that predictable?

holmbergius8 karma

And please pick a whale shark nickname for a great question! And I will post the link to that real shark as a reply.

ILoveDirtyMuff3 karma

He says he wants one to be named Mr Smith..

holmbergius3 karma

Here is Mr. Smith!

http://www.whaleshark.org/individuals.jsp?number=H-035

If you want to PM an email address to notify, our system can automatically notify you whenever this shark is resighted.

brix_shat4 karma

No question, however your website background color is quite terrible. Have you considered something different? Here is a 15 second CSS change: http://imgur.com/tkcjldg

food for thought, cheers

holmbergius1 karma

OK, good food for thought! Mind sharing how you did that?!? Would love to implement it. You're right...much better!!!

ferf32014 karma

What are the current management policies against these types of slaughterhouses? Is there anything the US can do? Or even on an individual level?

holmbergius6 karma

In China, I assume there are none. From a U.S. perspective, keeping negative attention and awareness about that slaughterhouse is a good first step. My impression from various conservation groups (I am mostly on the science side) is that the the shark fin trade is a black market affair. Finning operations often often take illegal catch (such as whale sharks) and know to stay low profile (see documentaries Sharkwater and the Vimeo link above). Making them very high profile operations is a good first step, and news of it may reach the right folks at the diplomat level. I am very appreciative of the folks at WildRisk for exposing this slaughterhouse.

holmbergius4 karma

If anyone wants to see how we build profiles (very much like social media) based on research data, please check out these links:

http://www.whaleshark.org/individuals.jsp?number=BZ-010

That's "Drake" (tagged BZ-010), one of farthest ranging whale sharks under study and a great example of how different groups can pool their data to learn more about whale shark movement.

holmbergius7 karma

This is how the same data can be visually displayed as a social media profile in Facebook:

http://fb.wildme.org/wildme/public/profile/BZ-010

This is an are we are exploring called "translational ecology", asking the question "How do we make scientific data consumable outside of the research community and of value or interest to the general public?"

cayal34 karma

Where I am diving/living at the moment is about to hit Whale Shark season, so I am excited to see some (hopefully) before I leave.

Anyway, my question is, what are the breeding cycles for them like, and how often can they breed over a given time? I ask simply because of the sustainability of them, I really cannot see a benefit of killing them (but hey, greedy people will do anything for money)

Keep up the good work, they are beautiful creatures. I got to see some while snorkelling in Mozambique as well.

holmbergius9 karma

We know very little about cycles and gestation. Based on other shark species, might be in the range of 1-3 years. Growth of neonate pups is slow though, with some estimating the age at maturity to be 20-30 years.

holmbergius8 karma

Want to nickname a shark?

aztecadam3 karma

I would very much like to nickname a shark if you're still offering! My friend's nickname is Mccy and it'd be a pretty awesome birthday present for him :D

Either way, I really enjoyed this AMA so thanks very much!

Edit: I just noticed that you've only been offering nicknames to people who are asking questions so I apologise for jumping the gun! I do have a question though.. I'm a computer science graduate who loves wildlife and secretly wishes he could be out there engaging with it instead of programming for a living. Or ideally, a nice mix of both! Is there any sort of role in your field for someone like me?

holmbergius3 karma

Here is 'Mccy', the massive whale shark:

http://www.whaleshark.org/individuals.jsp?number=H-032

If you want to PM me your email address and that of your friend (plus your name so I can associate it with the nickname), I can make sure that the system automatically emails you when your whale shark is resighted.

cayal34 karma

Has anyone spoken to the fisherman doing this and asked if they worry about the effect they're having on the population of the animals they're killing?

I'd love to know if they know, or even care. Feel any sort of guilt?

holmbergius4 karma

That's a really good question and would be a really good study. Given that they are illegally taken in many places, I am guessing there is little guilt over it and a lot of greed

FailedIntellectual3 karma

When I first learned about Whale Sharks in grade 3 or so, I wanted nothing more than to be a marine biologist, they were my favourite animal and I was absolutely fascinated by them. Just wanted to say, I am immensely jealous of how your life turned out.

holmbergius4 karma

That's very flattering. Thank you! But can I tell you that most of my time is spent in front of a laptop processing data and building better software to manage it? Learning anything about whale sharks is like finding a needle in a haystack. Through citizen science and building our own tools though, we are metaphorically using a metal detector!

worldwidethrowaway3 karma

So, no super awesome questions, but the naming opportunity makes me wish I could think of one(whale sharks are my favorite sea animal)!

However! Thanks for your hard work, you are awesome.

holmbergius3 karma

Go ahead and send a name! :)

worldwidethrowaway2 karma

Holy Crap! Really? Here it is: Vala Bala Mal Doran

Edit: My students are soon going to know all about 'my' whale shark.

holmbergius1 karma

Here is Vala Bala Mal Doran:

http://www.whaleshark.org/individuals.jsp?number=P-054

PM me if you want to associate an email address with it so that you get automated emails of its resightings. or if you want to associate your name with its nickname. Cheers.

weeever2 karma

Can we ironically nickname a whale killing machine?

holmbergius1 karma

Well from the planktons' perspective....

Pawys11112 karma

G,day from a more direct action type. Posted the video to the first announcement about it but it got ignored.

I just hope all this money and time into social networking and research will get to the fishermen who will wipe out this species faster than you can tag them.

But some how i doubt a fisherman in HK will look at your facebook and give up his career.

Been working hard with the line up of Chinese new year issue and fin now going work on the oil issue..

One battle at a time.

holmbergius2 karma

Hi Pawys1111,

Thanks for your feedback. First it looks like you're associated with Sea Shepherd? Very cool. I do very much appreciate the direct action approach.

I sit on the science and data management side, managing collaborative research through whaleshark.org. It is our hope to generate the science that helps support legislation to protect whale sharks. Barring any success there, then at least the science can support the "where" and "how" of more direct action. For example, many former whale shark fisheries have either stopped due to grass roots campaigns (e.g., India) or converted to more sustainable tourism (e.g., the Philippines). We hope the same can happen eventually in China.

But some how i doubt a fisherman in HK will look at your facebook and give up his career.

The social media fundraising campaign we just concluded (Wild Me) is not targeted at fishermen. It's actually targeted at the general public, transforming the research data we have for whale sharks and other species (I am currently working on humpbacks and sperm whales) into social media profiles that are easy to understand. In other words, we want to transform boring scientific data and build each animal under study into a story and a legend that (eventually as we further develop the concept) promotes appreciation and ideally instills a desire to protect. It's called "translational ecology", and our theory goes that as our social networks extend beyond our immediate geography to keep us aware of those we value or are interested in far away, so too could our networks extend beyond our species and allow us to include animals whose individual behaviors, photos, actions, etc. be conveyed to us automatically from the collection and curation of research data.

For example, what if through photo-identification we could tell you exactly which whales you are working hard to protect under Sea Shepherd? What if everything science knows about them could be conveyed to your supporters through easy-to-understand social media profiles? Would it make a difference for your supporters to see each whale that you are working to protect as an individual life worth protecting in and of itself?

That's what we are working toward, and I hope you see that we're actually on the same team.

holmbergius1 karma

Heart wrenching.

Curse_of_the_Grackle2 karma

I don't even know why they're farming Whalesharks. They take forever to kill and they don't drop any loot.

holmbergius2 karma

Patting self on back for understanding that reference. :)

michaelrayspencer2 karma

I take part in a lot of "citizen science" research on reptiles and amphibians, as well as fish throughout the United States, and, as you know, it's amazing how much useful information we can get from "regular people."

This AMA is incredibly fascinating and I'm looking forward to taking some time tonight to look more into the projects.

I grew up in Northern California and have always had a major fascination with sharks of all species and have been lucky enough to dive with a few species, mostly Leopards, Smoothounds, and a couple Blues. Even in these smaller species, you can see they possess and incredible level of intelligence. I just moved to Florida a month ago, and I'm hoping to get out diving here soon, though it's mostly Blacktips and Bonnetheads in my area.

Are Whales known around the coasts of Florida? I imagine they show up in the Bahamas and Caribbean at least...

Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer all of our questions and spread the knowledge on such a fascinating animal.

holmbergius2 karma

Awesome questions!

Here's the story with the Caribbean and Gulf Coast on a map: http://bit.ly/1enrYh0

There are regular aggregations off Louisiana, Holbox in Mexico, Belize, and Utila in Honduras.

Regarding Florida, we get sightings off Palm Beach that have been linked to Mexico but with minimal evidence. However, we have sightings off the west coast of Florida that have been linked to Belize, Mexico, and Texas. But largely the sharks are far enough offshore from west Florida that no one is looking for them, so we only get the accidental reports from sport fishing trips. Given a spotter plan, I bet we could start collecting a lot more sightings.

holmbergius2 karma

Also, do you want to nickname a whale shark?