SARASOTA, Fla. - If you look around Dr. Bob Hueter’s Mote Marine Laboratory office, you can tell he is quite fond of whale sharks.
“I love whale sharks” said Hueter, who is the Director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Labs. “ My first whale shark that I ever saw was in 1974 and that was in the Florida Keys.”
His love for the world’s largest fish goes beyond office décor. Hueter has spent the last nine years studying, tracking and even swimming with whale sharks off Mexico’s northeastern Yucatan Peninsula.
“It is an experience unlike any other. It is the largest animal on the planet that you can swim next to or walk next to in the case of land animals without being in any danger.”
Hueter and fellow researchers used specially designed tags to track the shark’s movements and learned whale sharks that swim in the Gulf of Mexico swim thousands of miles. They tracked one whale shark over 6,000 miles into the open ocean between Brazil and Africa.
“The exciting thing about it is we think she was a pregnant female and she was going down to this very remote part of the open ocean to give birth to her young, her pups” said Hueter adding, “now we want to follow up and try to find were the pregnant females are, where the pups are in this open sea.”
Hueter tells ABC 7, he hopes this research helps stir international cooperation in protecting the whale sharks and their habitats.
“We have some conservation concerns about this species. It is classified as vulnerable and with a population that may be decreasing on the world wide basis.”
The nine years of research has recently been published but has already had some positive affects for the whale shark.
“Our work actually led to the Mexicans creating a reserve for the whale shark in the area where we were tagging.”
Mote Marine officials are working with the United States and Cuban officials to create an integrated system of protection for whale sharks that can live as long as 80 years.
For more information or to read Dr. Hueter’s paper, visit http://www.mote.org/index.php?cid=7172909&forward=1097&curlid=291967