Dear Mayor Kenichi Kanemaru,
A whale shark was caught by local fishermen off the coast of Tateyama - Chiba prefecture of Japan, on July 25 and another on August 10 and both are now housed at Hasama Ocean Park in Chiba. As there are no available aquariums to house the sharks at this point in time, the whale sharks are currently held in a 50x50 meters space, 7 meters tall, that is cordoned off by a net used for keeping sunfish in captivity.
Based on our understanding, facilitators at Hasama Ocean Park will continue holding the sharks captive while looking for a suitable aquarium. This means that if space is not available, the sharks will only be released in November, as the drop in water temperature then is too severe for whale sharks to survive.
Whale sharks grow up to 12-14 meters and have a lifespan of 100 years or more in the wild. They are not able to breed until they are 25-30 years old. As the whale shark is the largest fish on Earth, but feeds on micro-organisms, sardines and anchovies, they have to preserve their energy as much as possible when gliding through the water. In confinement, especially in such a small area as this one, the whale shark needs to take sharp turns all the time, which means it burns calories at a very high rate. This results in the animal becoming exhausted and losing its strength. Therefore the shark also needs much larger amounts of food as it does in the wild, which is not possible to provide in the Ocean Park. This combined with the stress caused by 40 divers per day allowed in the sharks holding area, as well as boat tours, might cause the whale shark to die before its likely release in the fall.
Whale sharks are listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable to extinction. They are often killed for their large fins and suffer from pollution. Another whale shark beached itself in Tsujido beach recently in Kanagawa. Fortunately, locals were able to push it back out to sea saving the sharks life.
Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) in Singapore suffered massive backlash from various organizations and the locals when they announced plans to bring in whale sharks for their Oceanarium. The plan was scraped when it opened its doors earlier this year.
2010 has been declared the International Year of Biodiversity by the United Nations with the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10) to be held in Aichi-Nagayo, Japan October 11-29. Over 7,000 people from more than 190 countries and regions will meet at the COP10, the world's leading environmental conference, to find ways to preserve biodiversity and other environmental resources and sharks will be a key topic at the convention. As a group, sharks represent the greatest percentage of threatened marine species on the IUCN Red List with the whale shark included.
Please initiate the immediate release of these whale sharks from captivity, as this would concern Japans international image. We look forward to your reply.
In association with PangeaSeed and the Global Shark Initiative