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Media Release
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

16 October 2001

Australia Protects World's Largest Living Fish


Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill announced today that the Whale Shark, the world's largest fish, has been listed as nationally threatened under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity and Conservation Act 1999.

Senator Hill said there was evidence of a substantial decline in numbers of Whale Sharks.

"The Australian population of Whale Sharks is shared with other countries in our region. While migration patterns are poorly understood, we know from satellite tracking that some individual sharks migrate up to 12,000 kilometres."

"Unfortunately, whale sharks are still hunted in some countries in the region. This has led to a substantial decline in the regional population, which in turn has reduced the Australian population of whale sharks."

In 1999, a single whale shark fin was reported on sale in China for US$15,000.

"I am pleased that this magnificent creature will now be protected under the EPBC Act in Commonwealth and State waters. Australia also supports listing of the Whale Shark under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which will help promote international efforts to protect the species."

The Whale Shark is found in tropical and warm temperate seas, inhabiting shallow and deep coastal waters as well as lagoons, coral atolls and reefs.

"The whale shark is a magnificent, gentle creature, closely related to the wobbegong shark. It grows to 20 metres long and has a pattern of lines and spots that provides camouflage in its ocean environment."

"The whale shark is globally rare. Prior to the mid-1980's, there were only 350 confirmed reports of whale sharks worldwide. Even now, only one pregnant whale shark has ever been recorded and it is not know where they breed."

"Australia is perhaps the last stronghold for the Whale Shark. In Australian waters, whale sharks congregate at Ningaloo (WA), Christmas Island and the Coral Sea. These seasonal aggregations, which are believed to be related to food pulses in each location, are rare elsewhere in the world."

Whale sharks are filter-feeding sharks. They feed on minute organisms including krill, crab larvae and jellyfish. Their 3,000 tiny teeth are not used while feeding.

Senator Hill said that the whale shark is a major drawcard for eco-tourism in north-west Western Australia. The Whale Shark watching industry in Ningaloo is worth around $6 million per annum.

In addition to the Whale Shark, the Northern River Shark has also been listed as nationally threatened under the EPBC Act.

For more information on Australia's threatened marine species contact Environment Australia's Community Information Unit on freecall 1800 803 772 or visit the web site at http://www.ea.gov.au/coasts/species/index.html

16 October 2001

Media Contacts:
Belinda Huppatz (Senator Hills Office) 0419 258 364
David Kay (Environment Australia) (02) 6274 1224

Commonwealth of Australia