May 10, 2006 – San Jose, Costa Rica
This week the Costa Rican national lottery celebrates one of the most endangered species which migrate through Costa Rican waters, the whale shark. (link to see lottery ticket: http://www.tortugamarina.org/downloads/loteria.jpg)
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world, reaching up to 15 meters and weighing up to 10 tons. Like all sharks they are fish, yet they feed like whales by filtering plankton.
Although studies show that all shark populations worldwide have declined by 80-90% during the last 50 years, whale sharks are one of just three species of sharks internationally protected by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the body responsible for global endangered species lists. The other two sharks with international protection are the great white shark and the basking shark. International commerce in whale shark products is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Many countries have also passed national prohibitions on the fishing of whale sharks.
Taiwan, which enjoys active diplomatic relations with Costa Rica and whose vessels regularly land sharks and shark fins in Costa Rica, is one country that has not done so and permits a fishery directed at whale sharks and the capture of dozens per year. Whale shark fins sell as trophies for thousands of dollars and are often put on display at restaurants where shark fin soup is sold. Whale shark meat is also sold, its texture likened to that of tofu.
Costa Rica does not permit the importation of whale sharks at national ports.
Whale sharks are known to visit Cocos Island as well as coastal waters. Studies in the South Pacific Ocean report whale shark migrations of up to 12,000 kilometers per year.
Very little is known about whale shark behavior in Costa Rica, yet two projects are getting underway. PRETOMA and the Shark Research Institute (US) will be tagging whale sharks with satellite tracking devices at Cocos Island and in the Drake Bay area near the Osa Peninsula this year to study their migration behavior. Also the organizations Vida Marina (Costa Rica), Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (UK) and PRETOMA are forming a new network to record and identify all whale sharks sighted in Costa Rican waters with all interested divers and dive tour companies welcome to participate.
“Although proceeds from the national lottery do not financially support projects to conserve whale sharks, public awareness regarding whale sharks generated by the lottery is essential to promote both their protection and marine conservation in general, and we invite everyone to get involved,” states Randall Arauz, President of PRETOMA.
CONTACT: Randall Arauz
TEL: +(506) 241-5227
FAX: +(506) 236-6017
PRETOMA (Programa Restauraci