I received some astonishing news when I was flying to Donsol, one of the world's whale shark capitals: a megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) had been discovered in Mexico, only the 52nd since the first sighting of this mysterious animal in Hawaii in 1976.
Two years ago, number 42 was caught in a fishing net at a depth of 200 meters and was taken to Donsol. Measuring more than 4 meters long and weighing in at 500kg, it didn't survive it's injuries and was eaten in “kinout,” a local recipe with coconut, sadly, very often using manta ray. For a meal, which was without doubt one of the rarest in the world, this shark was lost to science. It was one of the fishermen who told me this remarkable story.
Little is known about the megamouth shark. It appears to pass most of it's time at a depth of around 1000 meters and then rise toward the surface to feed on plankton, jellyfish and small fish. Like whale sharks and basking sharks, megamouth sharks are filter feeders. It's name is credited to it's enormous mouth (up to 1.3 meters wide) which is filled with tiny teeth.
Several symbols surround this very rare take in Donsol. First of all, it is undeniable that very little is known about the depths of the ocean and the mysterious animals that live there. It is also proof of the indisciminating damage caused by drift nets on all ocean life. Whale sharks are too often victims. On a more positive note, there is no longer any doubt about the richness of sea life in Donsol. This region possesses an incredible biodiversity that must be conserved, a treasure to protect, and quickly. The whale sharks are making no mistake when they stop in Donsol during their annual migration.
It is time to go and tell this story to the students in the schools of Donsol and Sorsogon province. They don't know much about the marine life in the area surrounding them and in their eyes it is a mystery. We often only protect what we know!
A short trip to meet the megamouth shark:
June 2012 - Dwarka, India: thanks to funds raised by Eco-6 stuffed toys, ECO-SYS ACTION and BOOPY have been able to finance security equipment for fishermen trained in rescuing whale sharks taken in fishing nets along the coast of Gujarat in India. The WILDLIFE TRUST OF INDIA has succeeded in stopping the massacre and involving fishing communities in whale shark protection through an eco-tourism project that will be much more profitable in the future.