Whale Shark Research project

2009 Whale Shark Exploration Program
Wicked Diving and Golden Buddha Beach Resort
All Inclusive – Full Service 7 Day/ 6 Night Package
Whale Sharks

Whale Sharks

Program Dates:
January 31 – February 6, 2009
March 2- March 8, 2009

This February and March we offer a unique experience that supports eco-tourism and combines the opportunity to search for, identify and track Whale Sharks in Thailand ‘s Andaman Sea.
There is little known about this magnificent fish and even less known about their mating habits, migration patterns and the actual living population. The objective of the Whale Shark Exploration Program is to help save this precious species and raise awareness by educating all participants about the Whale Shark in particular, by locating and observing them while identifying and taking pictures of the spot pattern on their skin. We will also see and learn about all of the local marine life indigenous to the premier dive locations in the Andaman Sea.
Graceful, rare and mesmerizing, the Whale Shark can grow up to 12.2 meters long (although some 14m sightings have been reported), weigh upwards of 13.6 tonnes, and can live for about 70 years. The most elusive and largest fish in the sea is found in warm tropical waters and it is believed to have originated 60 million years ago. Currently listed as a vulnerable species by The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Whale Shark is frequently targeted by commercial fisheries in many regions.

Join us for 4 nights in your own private house at Golden Buddha Beach Resort, and then 2 nights aboard the MV Parinee for a diving exploration and educational adventure.

Golden Buddha Beach Resort has long been regarded as one of Asia ‘s finest eco-resorts. Established 16 years ago, it is the only resort located next to a spectacular uninhabited 10km beach and private bay on the island of Koh Phra Thong (Golden Buddha Island). The area remains one of the last unspoiled coastal areas in Thailand affording guests an experience that is both unique and completely in touch with nature.
Golden Buddha Beach Resort extends for over 10 km along the Andaman Sea, comprising uniquely designed beach houses that comfortably sleep between 2 and 5 people. Our tropical island resort has only 25 private beach houses, so crowds are
nonexistent while peace, privacy and tranquility are guaranteed. Both exotic and rare wildlife can often be viewed from the comfort of your own veranda. Hornbills, monkeys and deer are all commonly seen. The pristine beach remains one of the few nesting sites left in Thailand for giant Leatherback turtles.

We will meet you at Phuket International Airport (or the surrounding area), and transport you to Kho Phra Thong – Golden Buddha Island and Resort to begin a full-service ALL INCLUDED 7 day package. Please be sure to arrive in Phuket early as your driver will need to take you to Wicked Diving’s shop in Khao Lak to measure you for your diving equipment.

The package includes the following:
Transportation from Phuket airport to the resort
Sea view or Beach Front house for 4 days (2 person occupancy)
Lunch and Dinner at the resort (4 days)
Two one hour massages for each participant – Go on, pamper yourself!
Yoga and additional activities are extra, but certainly worth checking out.

After enjoying the luxury of nature on our very special island you will then join Wicked Diving aboard the MV Parinee for a 3 day, 2 night, educational diving excursion with the intent of spotting and tracking these rare fish – Whale Sharks.

This part of your adventure includes the following:
Minimum 9 dives
(Richelieu Rock, Surin Islands, Koh Tachai, Koh Bon, and BonSoong Wreck)
Air-conditioned cabins (shared, double occupancy)
Experienced and qualified Dive Guides and Instructors
Distinctive Whale Shark Specialty Certification
Scuba Equipment
All meals, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages
Underwater digital cameras and operating instructions
Personal DVD – underwater footage and imagery from the dive portion of your trip for you to take home

Boat returns you to Khao Lak for more days on the beach or a visit to nearby Khao Sok National Park

Wicked Diving is founded on the belief that diving should be safe, educational and fun. You will find a different kind of diving with us. In addition to these base ideals, we respect and protect the environment we live and play in. Wicked boats use locally produced BioFuel, and while participating in activities with us you will notice that we use natural and organic materials whenever possible. These products range from 100% organic cotton linens and towels, natural body soaps and shampoo to our phosphate free detergents. Wicked strictly enforces no trash overboard, no fishing and no touching or handling of ANY marine life what so ever. We show respect for the natural resources we all enjoy, and protect and preserve them for the next visitor to enjoy as well.

THE DIVESITES:
Richelieu Rock – One of the most famous dive sites in Thailand, Richelieu Rock is an isolated pinnacle to the east of the Surin Islands. Being known for Whale Shark sightings in Thailand is not Richelieu’s only claim to fame. Amazement awaits divers in every square meter of the dive site. From colorful soft corals to huge sea fans, sea hard corals and sea anemones – the topography here is spectacular. The diversity of small and large creatures and marine life is un-matched anywhere else in Thailand and is a favorite location for underwater photographers. Marine life spans from ghost pipe fish, frog fish, harlequin shrimp, seahorses, and rare nudi branches on the macro side of things, to cuttlefish mating, varied moray eels, octopus, chevron and giant barracuda, giant groupers, and manta rays for those looking for a possible encounter of the larger species.

Surin Islands – Located just south of the Burmese border, The Surin Islands famed for being one of Thailand’s most relaxed and beautiful travel destinations and also boast fantastic snorkeling and amazing diving. In the shallows around these islands you will find very healthy hard coral reefs brimming with marine life. This is the place to see macro life in full force living in harmony with a large turtle population. Also common in the Surins is sightings of manta rays and the occasional sail fish, as well as the possibility of a Whale Shark.

Koh Tachai – A solitary island located 20 km north of Koh Bon, Tachai has white sandy beaches and is home to two interesting dive sites – the southern pinnacles and the eastern reef. Manta rays visit this area for feeding and circling around the submerged twin pinnacles, and some divers have seen Whale Sharks here as well, along with leopard sharks. Clearly a magnet for the “larger” marine life it’s also possible to spot jenkins rays, white tip and black tip reef sharks, swarms of chevron barracuda, batfish,and turtles. Exotic species like the oceanic triggerfish can also be found here.

Koh Bon – Know as a cleaning station for manta rays, there is a high chance of seeing them here, along with the Whale Shark – particularly along the western ridge and northeast outer reef. Koh Bon is an isolated granite islet northeast of the Similan Islands, and is home to many types of sharks such as leopard, white tip, black tip and the occasional grey reef tip sharks. Some divers have been known to see a nurse shark lying under the coral heads if they are lucky.

BoonSong – The reason BonSoong is so exciting is the sheer magnitude of fish life. With very few other places to for the fish to go in the area, they all hide at the shipwreck. You will usually see 100,000 plus fish. Small fish of such amazing diversity – schools of Fusiliers, batfish, juvenile barracuda, and puffer fish surround you. All manner of eels in coral nooks, Lionfish by the dozen, sharks lurking in the background, hundreds of shrimp, rare nudibranchs, lobsters, and plenty more. This is a photographer’s paradise. On occasion, when the tide is right, Whale Sharks have also been spotted – even this close to the mainland.

General Background – The Whale Shark Exploration project was inspired by the ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library (www.whaleshark.org). The library is a visual database of Whale shark encounters and of individually cataloged Whale Sharks that is maintained and used by marine biologists globally to collect and analyze encounter data to learn more about these amazing creatures. Unlike older tracking and monitoring methods that involve invasive radio tagging ECOCEAN uses underwater digital cameras as the primary tool.

The Photo-identification Library uses photographs of the skin patterning behind the gills of each shark and any scars to distinguish between individual animals. Cutting-edge software supports rapid identification using pattern recognition and photo management tools. This technology was developed by Australian marine scientist and Rolex Laureate Brad Norman, and is based on an algorithm pioneered by NASA scientists working with the Hubble space telescope to record and identify constellations. The breakthrough for marine biology and conservation came when Brad Norman adapted and applied this formula to identifying individual Whale Sharks by their unique pattern.
Norman has been collecting information since 1994 and so far there have been over 4000 photographs submitted and 1200+ whale sharks are identified from all over the world.
One of the most personally rewarding aspects of this research is that the technology allows individual sharks to be identified and recorded. For example, a whale shark spotted at Richelieu Rock by one of our divers can be identified the next day as the same whale shark spotted 1000 miles away feeding in the Red Sea. Brad Norman explains; “When whale shark photos are logged in our online library each shark is assigned its own number and when someone photographs the same creature again, both photographers are informed by email. In this way you can track of the progress of ‘your’ shark as others spot it.”

Khao Lak Diving

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