Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus) Issues Paper

Department of the Environment and Heritage, May 2005
ISBN 0 6425 5082 4

Legal Status


The Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage listed the Whale Shark as Vulnerable under Section 178 of the EPBC Act on 16 October 2001. The Minister's decision to list the Whale Shark as a threatened species was based on advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee. The Committee found evidence for past and probable future substantial reductions in the Australian Whale Shark population, primarily due to fishing pressures in the waters of other regional fishing nations such as the Philippines, Taiwan and India. Catch data from these three countries indicated declining catch rates for the Whale Shark over the last ten to fifteen years.

Considering that Australia is likely to share Whale Shark populations with these regional nations, and that hunting pressure on Whale Shark populations would be expected to continue in the Philippines, Taiwan and India, the Committee concluded that a decline in the Australian population over time could be inferred or suspected.

The full text of the Committee's recommendation is included in Appendix 2.


In Western Australia (WA), Whale Sharks are fully protected under the Conservation and Land Management Act, 1984 and the Fish Resources Management Act 1994 as a 'totally protected fish'. In WA, the Department of Conservation and Land Management (WA CALM) is responsible for the day to day management of Whale Sharks within Commonwealth Waters under a memorandum of understanding between WA CALM and DEH (WA CALM, 2003). Whale Sharks are also protected in Queensland waters under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. In Tasmanian waters the species is protected under the Fisheries Regulation 1996.

Australian Legislation on Whale Shark conservation
Jurisdiction Act
Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
Western Australia Conservation and Land Management Act, 1984
Fish Resources Management Act 1994
Queensland Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975
Tasmania Fisheries Regulation 1996
Adapted from: Pogonoski, Pollard, and Paxton, 2002.


The Whale Shark is covered by protective legislation in a number of countries. It is unclear how successful national legislation has been in protecting the Whale Shark from exploitation. There are indications that underreporting of catches and illegal poaching occurs despite national legislation being in place banning the take of Whale Sharks, as is the case in the Philippines (Alava, 2002 in Chen & Phipps, 2002).

National regulations on Whale Shark harvesting
State Action, effective date
Belize Habitat protection, 18 May 2000
Honduras Ban on fishing, 28 October 1999
Maldives Ban on fishing, 24 June 1995
Philippines Ban on fishing, 25 march 1998
Thailand Ban on fishing, 28 March 2000
India Ban on fishing, 28 May 2001
Mexico Ban on fishing, 2000
USA Ban on fishing on Eastern seaboard
Australia Protected in Commonwealth, Western Australian, and Tasmanian State waters (and the waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Queensland).
Adapted from: Chen & Phipps, 2002 (and Norman, 2004).

The Whale Shark is also included in a number of international conventions and agreements, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).


The Whale Shark is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), having been nominated for inclusion by India and the Philippines in 2002. The case presented for listing under Appendix II of CITES included evidence of targeted fishing pressure supplying a growing demand for Whale Shark products, including meat and fins.

Trade in Specimens of Species included in Appendix II of the convention is subject to strict regulations, as detailed in Appendix 3. The full text of the Whale Shark nomination to CITES Appendix II is available from (http://www.cites.org/eng/cop/12/prop/E12-P35.pdf).


The Whale Shark is listed on Appendix II on the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) as detailed in Appendix 4. Appendix II of the Convention lists:

migratory species which have an unfavourable conservation status and which require international agreements for their conservation and management, as well as those which have a conservation status which would significantly benefit from the international cooperation that could be achieved by an international agreement" (Convention on Migratory Species, 2004).


The Whale Shark is included in Annex I (Highly Migratory Species) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Convention recognises that a coordinated management and assessment of shared migratory populations would promote an understanding of the cumulative impacts of fishing effort on the status of shared populations (Prop 12.35 CITES). The full text of the convention is available from (http://www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/closindx.htm).