ATLANTA (December 28, 2015)  - A team of researchers from Georgia Aquarium departed today on a whale shark research and conservation mission to St. Helena, a remote island in the South Atlantic  located halfway between Angola and Brazil. The team will spend the next week traveling to the small island.

“I can’t express how excited I am to be leading a team back to spectacular St. Helena,” said Dr. Alistair Dove, director of research and conversation at Georgia Aquarium. “The whale sharks of St. Helena are not like those in other known aggregation sites, which tend to be dominated by juvenile or sub-adult males. In St. Helena, the animals are larger, and the mix is an even 50-50 between adult males and adult females. We have strong suspicions that whale sharks mate in the waters around the island, which has never been observed anywhere else and gives St. Helena a truly unique role in the life cycle of this otherwise mysterious giant.”

Georgia Aquarium began studying whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, prior to opening in 2005. Ongoing research efforts have primarily been focused in Mexico, with a large aggregation of whale sharks in the Yucatan Peninsula, where the Aquarium has been able to track over 1,000 whale sharks. Little was known about whale sharks when Georgia Aquarium opened its doors 10 years ago and Dr. Dove and his team have made great strides to understand this incredible species. 

Aquarium veterinary staff and researchers continue to study the growth, behavior, and health of the four whale sharks in the Ocean Voyager Built by Home Depot exhibit. Georgia Aquarium collaborated with Georgia State University and Georgia Institute of Technology to observe each whale shark’s behavior, and perform detailed analysis of blood samples. Along with Emory University scientists, Georgia Aquarium was able to successfully map the first complete shark genome with tissue samples collected and studied at Georgia Aquarium. This achievement will help scientists to continue to study shark DNA. Other recent advances include a detailed analysis of their blood at Georgia Institute of Technology and a collaboration with Emory University to study the DNA of whale sharks based on tissue samples collected from animals at the Aquarium, which led to the first ever complete shark genome map.

 

This will be the second trip to St. Helena, with the first trip taking place just a year ago. During their research mission the crew will log over 20,134 miles round trip, deploy 57 satellite tags and spend time with all 600 local students, to educate them about their research and the impressive animals that aggregate near their home. The crew will work alongside the St. Helena government officials to study the animals, the island and will together work on an ecotourism plan to protect the species. To receive updates, video and photos of their journey, follow Georgia Aquarium on social media below and stay tuned to Georgia Aquarium’s blog.

 

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ABOUT GEORGIA AQUARIUM

Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that contains more than 10 million gallons of water and has the largest collection of aquatic animals. Georgia Aquarium’s mission is to be a scientific institution that entertains and educates, features exhibits and programs of the highest standards, and offers engaging and exciting guest experiences that promote the conservation of aquatic biodiversity throughout the world. Georgia Aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. For additional information, visit www.georgiaaquarium.org.