Recently the WWF documented the inadvertent capture by fishermen of a whale shark, and as the officials raced to investigate and free the animal, they got quite a surprise:
They expected to see a giant animal helplessly stuck, its tall dorsal fin and tail sticking out of the water. But there was nothing there. All they saw was a stick, stuck in sand, with a small rope leading away from it, into the water. Elson walked up to the stick and was amazed to find the smallest whale shark he had ever seen – a mere 15 inches long!
This part of the Philippine archipelago is apparently a hatchery for whale sharks as well as a congregation point -- something that nobody had known for certain until this pup was discovered. Although whale sharks -- or butanding, as they're called in the Philippines -- are the world's largest extant fish, they're not well understood. It's still not known, in fact, whether whale sharks incubate their eggs inside their bodies or are free-floating.
As much as people get aesthetic pleasure and unique experiences out of ecotourism, it's cool to see that its controlled expansion into new areas can also add to our knowledge of biological life. Who knows but that a few years earlier, a specimen like this tiny whale shark pup would have ended up not in the ocean, but in a much less hospitable environment.