University of Queensland researchers will now be better placed to  begin aground-breaking study on the endangered whale shark, one of the ocean’s gentle giants, thanks to a generous gift from the Winifred Violet Scott Charitable Trust.

The philanthropic funding will support UQ shark researchers Dr Brad Norman, Professor Craig Franklin and Dr Ross Dwyer to develop a program to improve understanding of whale sharks, assist with management decisions, and train the next generation of whale shark researchers.

Dr Norman, a former Rolex Awards for Enterprise laureate, is founder and director of non-profit organisation ECOCEAN, and has been working on whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia, and around the world for 25 years.

“As well as increasing whale shark expertise, data acquisition and analysis, the funds will also support UQ student training in both satellite tracking and the established photo ID system for monitoring whale sharks,” Dr Norman said.

“The sharks are tracked based on the unique spot pattern on the skin of each shark.”

The project involving more than 100 researchers world-wide has grown into the largest global database of whale sharks and has identified almost 9000 individuals from 55 countries.

“Students will be introduced to the Wildbook for Whale Sharks, a web-based photo library which uses a modified algorithm originally developed by NASA to recognise star patterns.

“A challenge with marine research is adequate resourcing – costs associated with boats and in the case of whale sharks, sensitive cutting-edge technology – so we  are grateful for government and donor assistance.

Dr Norman is actively seeking further support.  “With additional funding, we have the potential to answer some of the great mysteries surrounding the biggest fish in the sea, and ultimately ensure the long-term conservation of this endangered species”.

Previous work by Dr Norman and colleagues has seen whale sharks listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature; threatened under Federal legislation in Australia; requiring further attention under the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species; and Western Australia’s official marine emblem as an icon for that state.

The funding from the Winifred Violet Scott Charitable Trust will further establish UQ as a leader in whale shark research and teaching. The trust was established through her will to promote and encourage kindness towards animals, wildlife and the protection and preservation of endangered species.

People wishing to support whale shark research and education at UQ can visit here or contact Julia Keith at the Faculty of Science on j.keith2@uq.edu.au to discuss other funding opportunities.

Media: Brad Norman, brad@whaleshark.org, +61 414 953 627.

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