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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

WILL THERE BE WHALE SHARK STEAKS IN THE FUTURE?

When you write about everything, a few topics will be controversial.  Compound this situation with the human fact that virtually any subject matter will have proponents and detractors.  The whale shark happens to fall in this category because there are passionate whale protectors, vegetarians with a compassion for anything mammalian, and sincere but possibly misguided individuals and organizations dedicated to conserving any large animal species (that 1368 pound marlin caught today by Guy Kitaoka off the Big Island will no doubt draw some ire), but appalled at confining them to zoos and aquaria.  I probably get more hate mail for advocating whale shark steaks (which also happens to be among my most read postings) than anything else I publish, for not only would this beautiful creature be confined, but, horrors, killed and eaten.



So let me begin by stating that a whale shark:
The whale shark is the largest fish, with females up to 42 (fish stories go up to 75) feet in length, and is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.  However, every community (except China) so values this exotic attraction for gracing their marine environment that it is protected.  "Blame" this on tourism, if you must.  Whale sharks reach maturity at the age of 30 and can live up to a hundred years.  National Geographic loves to show them.  Pods of as many as 400 whale sharks have been observed in locales off Yucatan. Here is their habitat:


It is reported that the Gulf of Tadjoura in Djibouti is where they congregate in October and March, and you can snorkel with them.  There is even a Sheraton (left) in close proximity to the bay, my fall world adventure features stays at Starwood properties, I will be in the general vicinity in October and I can still adjust my schedule.  Hmmm....  (For the record, I looked into this option, and I can fly from Dubai to Djibouti City, stay for two days, and move on to Istanbul, my next stop anyway.  However, it takes five flights, beginning at ungodly hours, and I'm already at the limit of total flights allowed, 16).  Here is a photo featured by this hotel, and this detour remains enticing:


Returning to a more sober reality, I too decry the unfairness of this all, for, while sharks cause 20 human deaths/year, we, apparently kill 100 million sharks/year, mostly just for the fin.  Interesting that toasters and chairs are responsible for around 700 lives/year, while coconuts claim 150 people/year.  There has never ever been a record of a whale shark killing a human being.  But this is because their esophagus is only 3 inches in diameter and they consume mostly plankton and tiny seafood matter.

That fact is one reason why the Blue Revolution could someday produce next generation fisheries cultivating whale sharks, for, with the limited nutrients available from artificial upwelling induced by the ocean thermal energy conversion process, you would be able to produce a thousand times more whale shark matter than, say, a blue marlin fishery.  Large fish eat smaller fish which eat even smaller fish, etc., where each trophic level results in ten times more nutrients.  Whale sharks mostly survive at the lowest trophic level.

Notably, a particularly key factor could also be that, while cows only give birth to one calf (twins occur 5% of the time), a whale shark mother can produce up to 300 pups.  While these photos seems almost cruel, whale shark flesh is prized in China, and is much healthier, with low saturated fat and higher omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA.

What about aquaria around the world showcasing whale sharks?  I've come to the conclusion that they don't belong in captivity.  Read my posting of my visits to the Osaka Aquarium (left).  The following photos show whale sharks in Okinawa (Ocean Expo Park, 2-3 hours away by vehicle), Atlanta and Yantai (China):


Here is a history of whale sharks in captivity, from as early as 1934 in Japan, and includes India, Dubai and other cities in Asia.

So will there be whale shark steaks in your future meals?  Actually, you can already get them in China, but there it is known as tofu steak, so I suspect the texture will not remind you of the more conventional form.  The Huffington Post had a misleading article a year ago entitled, China Takes Pangolin and Whale Shark Off the Menu.  As much as the world has criticized China for allowing the fish to be caught, the fact of the matter is that there are laws, but they are not being enforced.  Each carcass is worth about $30,000 for a variety of consumer products, and southeastern China harvests around 600 of them annually.

So China is criticized for taking whale sharks, while Japan continues to catch whales.  Can there be a more sustainable way to provide seafood into the future.  Perhaps the Ultimate Ocean Ranch can be part of the solution.  Stay tuned to the development of the Blue Revolution and the coming of the Pacific Ocean International Station.

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There are four looming ocean storms, but none seems threatening:


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