A cycle rally set out on its journey all the way from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod on February 19, with the goal of spreading awareness about whale shark conservation. The rally, covering the entire 589.5 kilometres of the state's coast, is conducted by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) as a part of its ‘Save the Whale Shark Campaign’.
The 10-day-long journey, entered its third day on Tuesday, covering Kochi and heading towards Thrissur. The rally which was flagged off from Shankumugham Beach by Pradeep Kumar IFS, saw 10 participants from Cyclers Thrissur wearing campaign t-shirts and hats bearing the slogan "Save The Whale Shark," and advocating for the conservation project around the coastal communities. The team set out in two batches—the first group rode from Thiruvananthapuram to Thrissur from where the second group will head to Kasaragod.
Along the route, the participants engaged in conducting various sensitisation activities at each stop using a whale shark inflatable to raise public awareness of the threats posed by ocean plastic pollution. Supported by Oracle, the campaign throws light on the threats faced by whale sharks—listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). While whale sharks are often hunted for their meat, fins and oil, accidental by-catch in fishing nets is also a leading cause of death of the world's biggest fish.
“The rally had a great impact and saw support from many local fishermen around the coastal areas of Kerala. We are reaching out and interacting with school students and local communities to educate them about the dangers as well as the methods to conserve the whale shark,” said Sudheer P.S., Secretary, Cyclers Thrissur.
The campaign launched in October 2022 in Kerala yielded positive outcomes, including the rescue of a few whale sharks with the support of the local fishermen community. “This inspired us to expand our reach,” said Sreenanth K, Programme Communication Officer, WTI.
“Though being the world’s largest fish, people are unaware of its existence and threats,” said Sajan John Programme Lead, WTI. “With whale sharks being filter feeders, it is necessary that marine waste is controlled. Through this initiative, we aim to bring this topic to the forefront and reach out to more and more people in the coastal region.”
The fishing community's role is critical for this endeavour. Sajan adds: “Due to a lack of awareness and fear of getting into trouble, people hesitate to report to authorities if a whale shark gets entangled or trapped accidentally. It is vital to rescue the trapped fish and release it back into the ocean as soon as possible. Being the key stakeholders in such rescues, the fishing community's participation is therefore critical and it becomes important to sensitise the community about whale shark conservation.”
The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is a keystone species in the marine ecosystem, reaching lengths of up to 12 metres and weighing as much as 21.5 metric tons. Although distributed widely across tropical and warm temperate seas, limited information is available on the population trends of this species, especially along the Indian coastline.