A promising future for the gentle giants of Mafia as we mark global whale shark awareness day

Posted on August, 27 2020

30th of August marks World Whale Shark awareness day. In Tanzania this day comes with good news of the increase of whale shark numbers from 100 individuals in 2012 to 206 in December 2019.
The coordinator for the Marine Programme at WWF Tanzania Dr. Modesta Medard attributed the increase of the whale sharks to the joint efforts on awareness between the government and other stakeholders including WWF.
“WWF has been supporting whale shark research and conservation projects since 2012 in partnerships with Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) and Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute (TAFIRI) which has led to Mafia becoming globally important as a “model” site to learn about whale shark biology and ecology. We have supported the development of the whale shark management strategy and the code of conduct in 2018 and we are happy that the efforts have indeed paid and the numbers of the whale sharks are going up”.
“As we are celebrating the successes of our efforts in the Mafia we are still reminded of the dwindling numbers of these gentle giants of the sea in the world. Entanglement in fishing nets, injuries caused by reckless boat rides, hunting for meat and fins all threaten the very existence of the whale sharks. We therefore should not let our guide down until these giants are removed from the IUCN’s red list of Endangered. Threatened and Protected species. I would like to strengthen our partnership with other stakeholders in Mafia Island as supporters in conservation and development.  Together, we can enact world-class whale shark adaptive management projects to support the development of coastal and marine ecotourism, while continuing with monitoring for assessing the long-term population trends of this endangered species". She adds.
The whale sharks’ vulnerability is mainly due to slow growth where they become mature at the age of 30 years, and therefore if not well managed may become extinct.


Offering the best tourist adventure and economical benefits for the Mafia Island community, the whale sharks roam the Kilindoni waters most of the year with the best sighting in October through December. Up to 24 individuals can be seen at any one time: males, females and juveniles, all beautifully marked with stripes and spots. The larger sharks are estimated at over 9 meters long, so they are an impressive sight next to the boat, and quite stunning under the water.

This year’s whale shark awareness Day commemoration is organized in partnership with the Whale Shark Tour Operators’ Network of Tanzania (WATONET) and will see several activities aiming at raising awareness on the need to protect the sea giants of Mafia Island for sustainable tourism development.
Whale shark and researcher
© Clare Prebble - Marine Megafauna Foundation