In the 1980s and 1990s, whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) were being slaughtered by the hundreds in the waters off the coast of Gujarat, a state in western India famous for being the last refuge of the Asiatic Lion. While the lions were protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972, the whale sharks were not.
Demand for the sharks fins and meat in south-east Asia drove a roaring export trade. According to one study published in 2000 in the journal Current Science, over 1,700 whale sharks were killed between 1988 and 1998. A further 600 were killed between 1999 and 2000, according to another study by WWF-India published in 2001. A single whale shark could earn a fisherman anywhere from $2,500 to $7,000, depending on its size.
It was happening because of greed, Tulsibhai Gohel (bhai is an honorific that shows respect), the 42-year-old president of the Sagar Putra Foundation, a local fishermans association, told Mongabay. We were getting so much money, it was impossible not to kill them.
In 2000, a documentary by Mike Pandey called Shores of Silence, which included footage of men cutting off a whale sharks dorsal fin while the fish was still alive, drew widespread attention to the plight of these gentle giants. The government was lobbied and a year later the fish was added to Schedule 1 of the WPA, giving it the highest legal protection in India.
However, awareness of the sharks protected status remained limited in Gujarat. In order to spread the message, the Whale Shark Conservation Project (Gujarat) was founded in 2004 as a partnership between Tata Chemicals, a public company, the Wildlife Trust of India, an NGO, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the Gujarat Forest Department.
To lose a species that has been estimated to be as old as the dinosaurs, and about whom enough knowledge has not been gained, would be a big loss. This prompted Tata Chemicals Ltd. to partner with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) to embark on the Whale Shark Conservation project, Alka Talwar, the head of sustainability and corporate social responsibility at Tata Chemicals, told Mongabay.
Tata Chemicals has provided about $700,000 in funding since the projects inception as part of its corporate social responsibility, WTI the scientific and conservation expertise, and the Gujarat Forest department legal sanction and economic support for the communities. The collaboration among a public company, an NGO, and the state is one of the projects two pillars; the other is the fishing community. The model has been so successful because we were able to convert the community from hunters to saviours, Farukhkha Husenkha, WTIs assistant manager, sociology for the project, told Mongabay.
Husenkha joined the project in 2012 and operates out of Veraval, a fishing town that is the field base of the project. The project extends for roughly 160 kilometers (110 miles), and includes four other major fishing villages: Mangrol and Porbandar to the northwest of Veraval, and Sutrapada and Dhamlej to the southeast. The fishing seasons runs from September to June and can be quite lucrative, with fishermen earning up to $45,000 in a good year.
In addition to the ban on killing the sharks, the fishing communities have been taught to rescue the shark if it gets entangled in their nets. The nets are 20 meters (66 feet) wide and 5 meters (16 feet) deep. As many 100 nets can be cast into the sea and left overnight, creating a wall over a mile long.
Husenkha is one of three WTI employees in the region. He is joined by biologist Charan Kumar Paidi and field officer Prakash Doriya, a former fisherman who has been trained to help rescue and tag the sharks. My role is to make sure that the fishermens motivation [to protect the shark] is maintained, Husenkha said.
The project has documented 710 whale shark rescues as of March 2019. Eight sharks have also been tagged for research purposes, while five whale shark pups have been logged by the local fishing community. According to BC Choudhury, the lead investigator of the project, the pups prove that whale sharks breed in the Arabian Sea off the western coast of India.
A spiritual approach
To win the hearts of the fishing communities, Morari Bapu a spiritual leader who has a large following in Gujarat was appointed the brand ambassador for the campaign. He would prove to be the perfect messenger.
The best thing that worked in the whale shark initiative was the involvement of Morari Bapu, Anju Baroth, a scientist with the Wildlife Institute of India, told Mongabay. If a scientist had gone and given a lecture about conservation, nothing would have gone into their heads. An approach which is close to their heart was required.
Since whale sharks are a migratory species, Bapu told the community a simple story: The whale shark, which he named Vhali, or dear one, was like a relative coming home to give birth. The community would not harm such a relative but protect and care for her and her child. In the same way, they must protect and care for the shark, which, despite its size, is a gentle creature that causes no harm. He also appealed to the communitys sense of Dharma. Killing the shark was a sin, he told them, while saving it would bring them good karma. To drive the message home, actors performed a skit based on this theme.
Though it took a few years to convince all the fishermen to get on board, today, there is a total ban [on whale shark hunting]. The mind-set has changed, Gohel said.
The project reinforces Bapus message every year with two community events. Since 2015, the project has celebrated international Whale Shark Day on August 30th. In addition, a culturally significant day in the Gujarati calendar has been designated Gujarat Whale Shark Day by the Forest Department. On that particular day, the fishers will not go out to sea. It is an important day to spend with their families, Husenkha said.
Follow the leader
The projects other important activity in building community support was getting the community heads, known as Patels, on its side. Such is their tradition that the writ of these heads is the law in their communities. Tulsibhai Gohel is the Patel in Veraval and heads an association that counts 2,100 fishing boat owners as members. Those who do not follow their Patels instructions are blackballed.
Once the community leader has decided not to hunt, if someone offers even $10,000 for a shark, we wont kill it, said Patel Jivabhai Bariya, former head of the Sutrapada Koli Fishermans Association. Jivabhai has personally helped rescue around 50 whale sharks. There is a sense of pride that has come with being part of the project too. The world knows that we have been protecting the whale shark and we are proud to be part of the project, Jivabhai said.
In late 2005, the Gujarat Forest Department agreed to compensate the fishermen for the nets that were ruined when they cut the shark free. When the hunting stopped, the whale shark population increased and more were getting stuck in the nets, Ratilal Hardas Bariya, Patel from Dhamlej, said. It was causing the fishermen a lot of trouble.
The department has paid out around $130,000 in compensation up to 2018, the latest year for which data are available. In 2010, the department also agreed to let fishermen document the rescues themselves using plastic film cameras provided by the project. This significantly cut down on the time taken to rescue the shark, and thereby reduced the stress on the fish. This year, the project has launched the Vhali app, so the fishermen can take photos or video on their smart phones.
The institutionalisation of the process for providing monetary relief to fishermen for net damages incurred during whale shark rescue operations has also contributed to the project success, Tatas Talwar said.
A holistic model
In 2005, Tata Chemicals was awarded the Green Governance Award for the project, and in 2014, the Gujarat Forest Department received a Biodiversity award from the UNDP and the Ministry of Environment. The Project has just started a similar project in Kerala in Indias far south.
The Whale Shark Conservation Project has been successful because each partner brought something different to the table. All these blocks were put together and the puzzle was solved, Baroth said. Companies have the money and traditionally the research community is always in the need of money.
For Talwar, it also provides evidence that companies can play a big role in conservation, with or without the CSR act. The need is for environmental organizations, which have knowledge about ecosystem and biodiversity, to raise the issues and rope in different companies depending upon their areas of influence.
FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the editor of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page.
- David Nichtern on Spirituality and Making a Buck - Lion's Roar - January 30th, 2020
- Spiritual festival curated to bring world together in peace, love and harmony - Hindustan Times - January 30th, 2020
- The Ark brings shelter to those in spiritual need - Kern Valley Sun - January 30th, 2020
- 'Satanic wombs': the outlandish world of Trump's spiritual adviser - The Guardian - January 30th, 2020
- An Unexpected Spiritual Balm - Word and Way - January 30th, 2020
- Actors asked to find a spirituality for new Belfry production - Peninsula News Review - January 30th, 2020
- Spiritual Sounds unites a world of faiths in the East Village - amNY - January 30th, 2020
- What on Earth is wrong with Paula White, Trump's spiritual guru? - Washington Examiner - January 30th, 2020
- According to Trump's Spiritual Advisor It's Apparently Okay to Ask God to Terminate Pregnancies as Long as They're Satanic - Jezebel - January 30th, 2020
- Senior thesis Five Flights grapples with spiritual identity - Kenyon Collegian - January 30th, 2020
- Jefferson Award winner is a spiritual healer that attracts people from all over the country - WXOW.com - January 30th, 2020
- CITIZEN COLUMNIST: The value of discernment and spiritual discernment - SCNow - January 30th, 2020
- Spiritually Speaking: Jim Lehrer: To live a life of integrity - Wicked Local Sharon - January 30th, 2020
- The 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz: Returning in Spiritual Triumph - Yated.com - January 30th, 2020
- Trump's Spiritual Advisor Comes Out in Favor of Abortion - Patheos - January 30th, 2020
- Ganga yatra to invoke spirituality, focus on need to clean river - Hindustan Times - January 30th, 2020
- Tend to spiritual needs too - Bryan County News - January 30th, 2020
- I never meditated, would rather be a criminal than spiritual: Ma Anand Sheela - India Today - January 30th, 2020
- We put Jen Aniston and Gwyneth's spirituality gurus to the test - Marie Claire - January 25th, 2020
- On matters biblical, spiritual belief, and marital in the land of matoke - Daily Nation - January 25th, 2020
- Top 10 Religion and Spirituality Books for Spring 2020 - Publishers Weekly - January 25th, 2020
- Spiritual book proposes that we should nurture our souls as we would a garden -- with love and tenderness - Benzinga - January 25th, 2020
- Religion and Spirituality Books Preview: February 2020 - Publishers Weekly - January 25th, 2020
- Getting spiritual: the real essence of yoga - The Age - January 25th, 2020
- Spiritual Intervention for Crime Prevention? - The Voice St. Lucia - January 25th, 2020
- 6 Bishops on Their Favorite Saints, Spirituality - National Catholic Register - January 25th, 2020
- The spiritual poet - The News on Sunday - January 25th, 2020
- Is the Spiritual Realm more Real than the Natural? Brad Jersak | Brad Jersak - Patheos - January 25th, 2020
- Terry Crews says intermittent fasting is his fitness secret but he's actually doing it for spiritual reasons - Yahoo Entertainment - January 25th, 2020
- The role of scriptures on the spiritual path - The Navhind Times - January 25th, 2020
- Undiluted Catholicism: what the Amazon really needs - Catholic Herald Online - January 25th, 2020
- Review: 'Babette's Feast' a warmhearted exploration of the spiritual and the sensual at Lamb's Players - The San Diego Union-Tribune - January 25th, 2020
- GRHS graduate using platform to write about spiritual themes - The Glen Rose Reporter - January 25th, 2020
- Abortion is socially sanctioned, sovereignly offensive and spiritually sinful | Guestview - Pensacola News Journal - January 25th, 2020
- Material achievements and spiritual perfections - Centurion Rekord - January 25th, 2020
- Pastor's 'spiritual DNA' will live on - Impartial Reporter - January 25th, 2020
- The theologian who helped MLK see the value of nonviolence - Sumter Item - January 25th, 2020
- Why "Business Meets Spirituality" Is an Important Leadership Trend For 2020 - Thrive Global - January 19th, 2020
- The Fall of Spirituality: The Blood-Soaked History of the Cathars - Ancient Origins - January 19th, 2020
- In this art gallery, conversations about religion and spirituality are welcome - The Oakland Press - January 19th, 2020
- A Spirituality of Aging: Deepening our Wisdom Years - CatholicPhilly.com - January 19th, 2020
- Spirituality and values in the Disney universe - Evangelical Focus - January 19th, 2020
- The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s spiritual influence remembered in Steubenville | News, Sports, Jobs - The Steubenville Herald-Star - January 19th, 2020
- 5 Reasons to jumpstart your spiritual reading in 2020 - Aleteia EN - January 19th, 2020
- Big Freedia Will Bring Bounce Tunes, Spiritual Experience When She Takes the Stage at Paper Tiger - San Antonio Current - January 19th, 2020
- Meaningful Conversations Chapel Hill looks for the spiritual basis of forgiveness - The Daily Tar Heel - January 19th, 2020
- Liverpool players spiritual preparations and how club respectfully honours faith behind the scenes - Liverpool Echo - January 19th, 2020
- Local Cantors are 'The Spiritual Caretakers of the Congregation' - The Jewish News - January 19th, 2020
- The 12 Best Mayan Sites to See in Guatemala - Fodor's Travel - January 19th, 2020
- Father beat children secluded on Ruinerwold farm with "spiritual sword": Report - NL Times - January 19th, 2020
- SPIRITUALLY SPEAKING: What will your legacy be? - Wicked Local - January 19th, 2020
- The Ummah Chroma to Launch Spiritual & Meditative Installation at Het Nieuwe Instituut - HYPEBEAST - January 19th, 2020
- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Pray for the president's spiritual aligning with Scripture - Anniston Star - January 19th, 2020
- Spiritually Speaking: 2020 vision for the New Year | Eden Prairie Opinion - SW News Media - January 19th, 2020
- The Shepherd and the Shrink | Dexter duo launches podcast combing spirituality and psychology - thesuntimesnews.com - January 12th, 2020
- Spirituality Has Long Been Erased From Art History. Heres Why Its Having a Resurgence Today - artnet News - January 12th, 2020
- Expert says medical professionals need better training on spiritual care - Crux: Covering all things Catholic - January 12th, 2020
- Its possible to be spiritual without following religious practices - Hindustan Times - January 12th, 2020
- Religion and Spirituality Book Deals: January 8, 2020 - Publishers Weekly - January 12th, 2020
- The history of scientists dismissing spiritual experiences - The Week Magazine - January 12th, 2020
- Spiritual New Year's resolutions - The News Star - January 12th, 2020
- Dubais Demand for Niche Spiritual Retreats on the Rise - Skift - January 12th, 2020
- Spiritual Medium Yesenia Berbiar Aims To Heal Hearts By Connecting With Departed Family Members - KHTS Radio - January 12th, 2020
- Spiritual editorial: Last year in the rear view mirror - NorthcentralPa.com - January 12th, 2020
- Spiritual Alphabet Soup of Death and Dying - Thrive Global - January 12th, 2020
- KEEPING THE FAITH: Local spiritual leaders respond to recent national violence - Evening News and Tribune - January 12th, 2020
- Faith and Values: Look outward for spiritual growth in the new year - The Spokesman-Review - January 12th, 2020
- GOD SQUAD: Spiritual New Years resolutions - CTPost - January 12th, 2020
- Bill Tinsley: Develop a physically and spiritually healthy heart - StarNewsOnline.com - January 12th, 2020
- Czech out Svickova Na Smetane and get spiritual about bread: this week's food events in Eastern Iowa - The Gazette - January 12th, 2020
- The spiritual meaning of the word - magviral - January 12th, 2020
- I have faced the roughest time in my spiritual walk, Rose Muhando - The Standard - January 12th, 2020
- Blackbird, Regnum Christi, and the Legacy of Spiritual Abuse - Patheos - January 12th, 2020
- Music And Spirituality At 'Rising Song' Event - Jewish Week - January 5th, 2020
- Divine grace found in messiness of imperfect life - Times Colonist - January 5th, 2020
- Shamanism in Nepal: Inside the practices and spiritual world of Jhakri - The Independent - January 5th, 2020
- The three most important walks of existence: spirituality, relationships, and career success | By Judith Nwadigo - Qwenu! - January 5th, 2020
- Oddity is an Earthbound spiritual successor that used to be a fan sequel - PC Gamer - January 5th, 2020
- GUEST COLUMN: The spiritual pleasure (and poetry) of flowers - Wicked Local - January 5th, 2020
- Mother Teresa's former spiritual advisor accused of raping boy more than 1000 times - LGBTQ Nation - January 5th, 2020