Mortality of marine megafauna induced by fisheries: Insights from the whale shark, the world’s largest fish
The expansion of human activities is endangering megafauna in both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. While large marine vertebrates are often vulnerable and emblematic species, many are considered to be declining, primarily due to fisheries activities. In the open ocean, certain fisheries improve their efficiency of detecting tuna schools by locating and fishing close to some macro-organisms, such as whale sharks or marine mammals. However, collecting accurate data on the accidental capture and mortality of these organisms is a complex process. We analyzed a large database of logbooks from 65 industrial vessels with and without scientific observers on board (487,272 and 16,096 fishing sets since 1980 and 1995 respectively) in both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Distribution maps of Sightings Per Unit of Effort highlights major hotspots of interactions between the fishery and whale sharks in the coastal area from Gabon to Angola in the Atlantic from April to September, and in the Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean between April and May. The incidence of apparent whale shark mortality due to fishery interaction is extremely low (two of the 145 whale sharks encircled by the net died, i.e. 1.38%). However, these two hotspots presented a relatively high rate of incidental whale shark capture. Thus, we underline the importance of estimating long-term post-release mortality rates by tracking individuals and/or by photographic identification to define precise conservation management measures.