The world's largest fish, the whale shark has been known to visit the coast of Gujarat to breed. Sadly, fishermen in the area used to hunt the whale shark to export its meat and fins and to use oil extracted from its liver to waterproof their boats. Around 600 to 700litres of oil can be extracted from the liver of a 12mts whale shark. It is estimated that more than a thousand whale sharks were hunted along the Saurashtra coast during the period from 1995 to 2001. As the demand for whale shark meat increased in South East Asia, exporters started trading actively. According to the local community, the hunting of whale sharks became commercially viable after the exports geared up. The meat, which used to be processed and packaged at local factories, was exported and the oil was sold to shoe polish manufacturers. In the absence of any knowledge about the whale sharks, the fishing community remained oblivious to the fact that the killings were threatening the existence of a critically endangered species.
Then, in May 2001, the government banned fishing and trading of thewhale shark by placing the species on Schedule-I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, thereby granting it the highest legalprotection. A campaign to protect the whale shark was launched by the Wildlife Trust of India in collaboration with Tata Chemicals Limited, Gujarat Heavy Chemicals Limited and the Gujarat State Forest Department. The aim of the campaign was to create awareness onwhale shark conservation.
OBJECTIVES OF THE AWARENESS PROGRAMME
- To give the fish a name which evokes a sense of pride among the Gujaratis and discourages the use of the name 'barrel fish', which is what the whale shark was called because it was hunted using harpoons and barrels.
- To stop the killing of the whale shark on the coast of Gujarat.
- To draw support from the Coast Guard to help apprehend whale shark poachers.
- To encourage fishing boat owners to extend support for whale shark conservation and report whale shark sightings.
- To conduct a socio-economic survey and a design need-based rehabilitation package for fishermen affected by the ban on whaleshark fishing.
METHODS ADOPTED BY THE PROGRAMME
Morari Bapu, a Hindu spiritual leader, agreed to become the brand ambassador for the project. He used his Ramkatha discourses to spread the message of "Ahimsa hi param dharma” (non-violence is the greatest religion) and "Atithi devo bhava” (a guest is god) among the fisher folk to create awareness about the plight of the whale shark. The campaign has helped instil moral and ethical values in the conservation efforts.
Whale Shark Inflatable
A life-sized model of the whale shark was towed along the Saurashtra coast as part of the awareness campaign.
Special Postal Cover
A First Day Cover was released at a public function at Ahmedabad and a 15-minute film on the whale shark campaign was launched. The documentary was designed to create a feel-good factor among the public in general and also showcase the docile nature of the whale shark.
A mobile group of street performers travelled along the Saurashtra coast with a customised street play that spoke about whale shark conservation. The play not only helped create awareness about the fish,but also sensitised the local community about the need to protect the species.
Creating an Emotional Appeal
The whale shark was given the name 'vhali' or 'the dear one' instead of 'barrel fish'. The name vhali portrays the whale shark as a daughter of Gujarat, coming home to give birth to its children. Hence the people of Gujarat, who are the parents of vhali, were compelled to protect the shark.
Awareness Generation Programmes
Painting competitions with the whale shark as the theme were held for students of Gujarat, starting with those living in the coastal districts.This was done to encourage students to learn more about the shark. ANALA, an NGO involved in organising nature education and adventure activities, also sensitised students on whale shark conservation at their nature camps.
Games and More
Various games on the whale shark were designed in collaboration with the Center for Environmental Education, Ahmedabad, to disseminate information to schoolchildren.
HOW THE PROGRAMME HELPED THE WHALE SHARK
- Fishermen off the Dwarka coast released a whale shark, which had got entangled in their fishing net. This incident gave birth to the idea of encouraging the release of whale sharks caught accidentally in nets and since then, more than 225 whale sharks have been rescued and released, making it one of the biggest rescue operations for an endangered species in the country.
- The State Forest Department has started giving financial compensation to fishermen whose nets are damaged during whale shark rescue operations.
- The coastal cities of Porbander, Dwarka, Okha and Diu and as well as the inland city of Ahmedabad have adopted the whale shark as their city mascot.
Images and text courtesy Tata Chemicals Limited (TCL).
TCL is committed to nature conservation andis involved in various conservation projects in andaround its work sites and also supportssuch initiatives by other institutions.For more information log on to www.tatachemicals.com