"Stumpy" the whale shark drifts along World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef.

Life at Ningaloo: Stumpy the Whale Shark

  • BY Brad Norman |
  • August 16, 2011

Scientists learn more about whale sharks thanks to the AG Society Whale Shark appeal.

By now it's well established that whale sharks love Ningaloo Marine Park in Western Australia. Each year between March and July (and sometimes longer) whale sharks gather along WA's famous Ningaloo Reef for a planktonic feeding frenzy.

But for one shark, Ningaloo isn't just an occasional stop-off on his migratory pathway but possibly a place to call home. Since 1995, the ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-Identification Library has been keeping track of its flagship whale shark, A-001 or Stumpy as he's more fondly known.

The small 'stump' of an upper tail fin that inspired his nickname makes him an unmistakable and memorable shark, but his annual attendance at the Ningaloo whale shark event is tracked by slightly more sophisticated method of identification.

Just as humans can be identified by our fingerprints, whale sharks have unique patterns of spots and stripes that can be used for identification.

Though a whale shark's spots move as it grows, the angles between the various groups of spots never change. Sharks can therefore be followed for years - 16 years in Stumpy's case. Encounter reports with sighting location information and identifying images have been completed for ECOCEAN's online Library from scientists and eco-tourists alike a total of 60 times, nearly every year, first on 17 June 1995 and most recently on 3 June 2011, 16 years later!

In 2005 alone, images of Stumpy were recorded 16 different times over a two-month period, first on the 10 May and finally on the 7 July.

2009 was another impressive year for Stumpy, with consistent sighting reports for the shark from mid April until the end of June.

So far in 2011, Stumpy has been reported to the Library five times, but with whale sharks present at Ningaloo into August this year he may still be out there. At 8m he's hard to miss, so keep your masks on and your cameras ready!

The Australian Geographic Society are raising funds to help scientists learn more about whales like Stumpy. To donate to the Whale Shark appeal click here. 

For more information about Stumpy and ECOCEAN visit www.whaleshark.org

Follow Stumpy on Facebook.

Michael Blakley (RedFish Videography)