For endangered whale sharks, Madagascar is the place to be

May 23, 2018, 8:23 a.m.

There's a new hot spot that all the hip young whale sharks are talking about, and it's Madagascar.

Researchers found that almost 100 whale sharks frequent the nutrient-rich waters of Nosy Be, a small island in northwest Madagascar.

"We identified 85 individual whale sharks over our first season in 2016. Some of the sharks were present across several months. They spend a lot of time in the area and seem to come here to feed," lead author and project leader Stella Diamant said in a statement.

Diamant and her team published the results of their study in the journal Endangered Species Research.

Categorized as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), whale sharks can grow to be up to 65 feet (20 meters) in length. The whale sharks visiting Nosy Be are juveniles, however, measuring about 29 feet (9 meters).

Other marine creatures visit these waters, too, including manta rays, sea turtles, humpback whales and even rare Omura’s whales.

And humans are aware of this as well. Tourism has increased in the area because of the presence of the whale sharks and the other aquatic wildlife.

"We've found that whale sharks regularly visit Nosy Be between September and December. That has led to a growing ecotourism industry, as people travel to see and swim with these gigantic, harmless sharks," Diamant said.

The waters around Nosy Be have no formal protections in place to keep the whale sharks and other marine life safe from fishing and finning activities. According to the BBC, researchers have drawn up a code of conduct to help keep the whale sharks protected from human interference.

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