Photo by Todd Steiner
Photo by Todd Steiner

Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are the world’s largest fish and are a migratory species found in tropical and temperate waters globally. Turtle Island’s Whale Shark Research Project aims to not only increase scientific understanding of these rarely studied ocean giants but to also protect their critical migration routes and aggregation sites.

Turtle Island, together with partner organizations, studied whale sharks in the Galapagos in a first-of-it’s-kind research project. Key findings from our 2011 and 2012 scientific expeditions include the following:

  1. Most whale sharks that visit the Islands appear to be pregnant females;
  2. Whale sharks arrive at Darwin Island (the northernmost island of the archipelago) from June through November. They remain at the island for a couple of days before continuing their migration out into the open ocean and towards the coast of mainland South America; and
  3. Whale sharks travel from the food-rich waters near the north coast of Peru to the Islands, a journey that is over 1000 miles. Several whale shark strandings have been reported on the beaches here over the last few years.

Understanding more about these mysterious creatures is the key to engaging local communities and ultimately protecting whale sharks worldwide.

Tagged whale shark movement in the Eastern Tropical Pacific

The 2014-2015 Whale Shark Expedition expands the project to focus on community engagement to protect whale sharks in Peru, and tracking shark movements in and around Cocos Island, Costa Rica, as well as continuing research in Galapagos Island.

In Cocos Island the expedition will be conducted in partnership with our sister organization Pretoma, while in Peru, we will work with our new partner,  Planeta Oceano. Planeta Oceano has developed a network of costal fishing villages that will report whale shark sightings and strandings. Together with Planeta Oceano, Turtle Island will place tags on whales sharks to determine their key habitat. Turtle Island will also work to identify areas where interaction with fishing gear occurs and work to minimize those incidents.

In Galapagos, we will continue to track sharks, identify if they are pregnant, and work with local researchers to promote the use of a global photo-ID database that can be used to look for and match individual sharks moving between locations

Learn more about whale sharks in our fact sheet.

ws body pic


The Galapagos Whale Shark Research Project was conceived over a decade ago by Naturalist Guide and Biologist Jonathan R. Green who was a long time observer of whale shark behavior at Darwin Island (in the Galapagos Marine Reserve). Green formed a research partnership to study these little-known whale sharks with Turtle Island Science Director, Dr. Alex Hearn.  With the support of the Blake, Kymberly, and George Rapier Family Trust in 2011 and 2012, a research team at the University of California at Davis, the Charles Darwin Foundation, and the Galapagos National Park Service the project tracked 40 whale sharks over a two-year period.  Initial findings were published in the Journal of Animal Biotelemetry, and the project was documented in “Galapagos- Realm of the Giant Sharks” and also featured in David Attenborough’s “Galapagos In 3D.”

Help support this research by purchasing a gorgeous whale shark pendant made by Roland St. John here

whale shark necklace

Project Partners

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