This is a story I love to hear, again and again, from a member of the Qimpro Fraternity, about how the whale shark has been saved. And it is not fiction.
The whale shark is the largest fi sh in the world. It can grow to over 50 feet in length and weigh more than 10 tons. Each year, this gentle fish comes swimming all the way from the shores of Australia to those of Saurashtra, between September and May, to spawn in these waters. Whale sharks can live up to 150 years.
For years, its size and mellow temperament made it an easy prey to fisherman who profited from them. Until the turn of the century, these fishermen killed about 1,200 whale sharks each year. Not only was the whole fishing operation cruel, but by not allowing the fish to breed, survival of the species was in danger.
Thankfully, in 2001, the Government of India banned the fishing and trading of the whale shark.
Soon after, the Managing Director of a leading chemical company in Gujarat, set a challenging goal to save the whale shark along the coast of Saurashtra. But with the condition that it must become a world-class conservation project. He encouraged all employees from his company to get involved.
As a result, the ‘Save the Whale Shark’ campaign was launched, facilitated by this chemical company. The campaign had a team of logical, but unlikely, partners. The partners included: the company, Wildlife Trust of India, the Coast Guard, the Indian Navy, and the Ministry of Environment and Reefwatch. Besides providing financial assistance, volunteers from these organizations and institutions created awareness in the fishing community.
Street plays, games, posters, inflated flotillas, postage stamps, and school art competitions became the feed for building awareness. However, as always, building awareness had its own majestic pace.
Almost miraculously, the tide changed when the spiritual leader Morari Bapu, an interpreter of indic traditions, was co-opted into the campaign. In his discourses he reminded the community of the age-old Indian tradition of welcoming a ‘daughter with child’ into her parents home to give birth.
The analogy melted people’s hearts, and since then, the whale shark has not just been welcomed on the shores of Saurashtra but also fiercely guarded with parent-like protectiveness.