Galapagos Popular Pit Stop for Pregnant Whale Sharks

Photo of a Whale Shark by Alex Hearn, Turtle Island Restoration Network.

By Gloria Dickie, Turtle Island Restoration Network Intern

With 13 major islands and over 100 rocky islets, the Galapagos Islands are a dream destination for many adventurous travelers, but their popularity isn’t limited to the scuba diving crowd.

A new study co-authored by Turtle Island’s Conservation Science Director Alex Hearn reveals the Galapagos Islands are also a major pit stop for migrating whale sharks.

The Galapagos Whale Shark Project is the brainchild of naturalist and explorer Jonathan R. Green in collaboration with Turtle Island Restoration Network, the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Service. Between 2011 and 2013, the science team surveyed the whale shark population around Darwin Island, the northernmost island in this biogeographical region.

Photo of a Whale Shark by Alex Hearn, Turtle Island Restoration Network.

During a total of 180 dives, teams recorded information about the shark’s size, sex, potential signs of pregnancy, presence of noticeable scars, behavior, and associated fauna. They followed this up with photographic analysis of the area behind the shark’s fifth gill—which serves as a kind of human fingerprint—and prominent scarring. Their data revealed an unprecedented number of whale sharks using the island’s coastal waters as a migration stopover.

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