Ode to the whale shark: A species filled with superlatives that lifts all “boats”


It’s that time of the year again, the day allocated to celebrate the world’s largest fish, the whale shark. It’s a species of superlatives that inspires awe and admiration for those who know it will not eat anything larger than the size of your index finger. Furthermore, it’s a species of many superlatives beyond its 20 m plus size. It has the largest hearing system in the animal kingdom that enables it to perceive the minutest of sounds including the sounds of courting finfish, whose eggs they find a delicacy worth swimming hundreds of kilometers to eat. Its thickest of skins, an estimated 15 cm thick on the back of the largest of whale sharks, provides stronger protection again predators as they give demonstrate evasive maneuvers when they feel threatened by giving them the shoulder or back. Now, this evolutionary thick skin has proved a boon against boat strikes, scars of which have been seen in at least one third of whale sharks at large aggregations. And evolution has shaped other protective features including eye-armor, where the tiny teeth making up shark skin, known as dermal denticles, also grow on the eyes of whale sharks. 

Up to the late 90s, they were thought to be veritable couch potatoes (note the “e” Dan Quayle), surface basking and staying relatively put, until through the great wizardry of miniaturization, satellite location and depth measuring tags that we first tested with manufacturer Wildlife Computers, revealed they could dive beyond the instruments’ breaking limits (1,500 meters at the time). As tags have evolved, and able to measure ever deeper, these diving extremes have crowned whale sharks as the deepest of surface to depth diving animals to nearly 2,000 m (6600 feet) … that we know of. They may well have thumbed their snouts at us (despite a lack of opposable thumbs) and dived far deeper. 

Which then raises the question of how and why dive so deep? We analyzed the subdermal layer from biopsy samples taken years ago and found it contained mostly fat. Coupled with a huge and very oily – and hence buoyant – liver, and because they don’t possess lungs or a swim bladder, they can withstand crushing pressure and sub 5 degrees centigrade temperatures at depth. But why descend into the cold inky depths? If you have no way of regulating your temperature and you overheat, you move to cooler temperatures for a while, and keep switching to maintain a comfortable and likely optimal temperature (also known as behavioral thermoregulation). Dives serve other reasons: searching for and preying on food found at specific depths, such as the largest migration on earth of zooplankton that moves from deep to shallow water strata daily; evading air breathing predators such as orcas, a top predator that the largest of shark species fear; getting closer to the earth’s core where magnetic lay lines can be better perceived and used to navigate across featureless oceans. Deep diving also gives them a break. As they leave the photic or light zone and move into darkness as they descend past 200 m, they don’t need to use their eyes and can shut down the energy consuming visual cortex and relax into a depth mediated nap. However, they can’t stay long at depth and often race back to the surface when they cool off too much and their oxygen stores derived from water, may have dropped too low. 

These same satellite tags have yielded numerous studies demonstrating the trans-oceanic migratory capabilities of this largest fish, further compelling international efforts to protect them against anthropogenic threats throughout part or all their journeys in the guise of protected areas, species-specific protections, bans on capture in large-scale fisheries and more. 

With so many discoveries made with this iconic shark, what does the future herald for them? Although a few questions remain: where they pup, why are so many of the world’s aggregations skewed to juvenile males or are there sex-mediated feeding preferences, etc. In the grand scheme of sharks, we know a lot about this species, especially as compared to at least over 500 other species of sharks who do not possess the charisma of this planktivorous behemoth. It is therefore good to place the purpose and outcomes of our work with whale sharks into a larger context. Now listed as Endangered to Extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature whose listing underpinned the ruling to monitor and regulate the trade in this species through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, sizes have been recorded as declining, with the largest 20+ m animals rarely, if ever, found and the median size running between 6-8 m in most aggregations world-wide. The many mysteries that once swirled about the world’s largest fish have been resolved to the degree that will help improve conservation measures and management of threats. But now it’s key to monitor if and how the many conservation tools and measures applied throughout the world are improving abundances and sizes and reducing threats. We hope that this process will continue to give rise to new knowledge that can further help to shed light on the 540+ other species of sharks. Importantly, much of our current and future work needs to focus on their roles as canaries in the proverbial coal mine with climate-mediated changes to the ocean’s chemistry, circulation, and health. As an oceanic ambassador, whale sharks bring a persona to marine conservation measures and large-scale processes that often have no “face”.  Whale sharks have helped to drive shark encounter tourism globally and elicit a more palatable view of sharks overall, helping to change public attitudes and ultimately lifting all shark “boats” in the changing tide to rewild the seas with all shark species.

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Asistente de comunicación (Internship)

MarAlliance es una organización internacional sin ánimo de lucro registrada en EE.UU., Belice, Panamá y Cabo Verde, cuyo objetivo es explorar, facilitar e inspirar cambios positivos para la fauna marina amenazada, especialmente tiburones y rayas, sus hábitats críticos y las comunidades humanas dependientes. Nuestra misión es amplia y ambiciosa, y trabajamos en tres idiomas y en siete países de tres regiones. Ante el declive de muchas poblaciones de megafauna marina, estas especies necesitan una voz fuerte, eficaz y con base científica que las represente para ayudar a los socios dependientes a dar forma a las estrategias y acciones de gestión y conservación para invertir el declive.

Resumen del puesto:

Buscamos a un becario (6 meses) proactivo, con conocimientos digitales y excelente capacidad de redacción y edición de textos, que apoye la creación de contenidos escritos de alta calidad y recursos multicanal para difundir el trabajo que MarAlliance realiza a través de sus plataformas en línea (sitio web, redes sociales, boletín, entre otras) y fuera de línea, y que interactúe con nuestro público externo para contribuir a nuestros objetivos generales de comunicación y marketing. El Asistente de Comunicación dependerá directamente del Coordinador de Comunicación y Marketing, y trabajará en estrecha colaboración con el resto del equipo para apoyarles en los elementos de comunicación de su trabajo.

Las funciones y responsabilidades incluirán, entre otras, las siguientes:

  1. Proporcionar apoyo creativo, editorial y operativo a los proyectos. 
  2. Apoyo en la organización, etiquetado y etiquetado del archivo fotográfico y gestión del archivo de vídeo.
  3. Gestión de la comunidad: Gestionar activamente los canales de medios sociales, así como identificar nuevas tendencias y oportunidades de colaboración. Generar reels y visuales.
  4. Apoyo en la redacción de artículos de blog (SEO) y contenido de boletines. 
  5. Ayudar a construir y desarrollar materiales, herramientas y acciones para campañas (online y offline).
  6. Ayudar en diferentes tareas relacionadas con la comunicación trabajando mano a mano con contratistas externos (desarrollador web, diseñador gráfico…) para mejorar el compromiso de las audiencias externas.
  7. Apoyo en la elaboración de informes de campañas y comunicaciones (Google Analytics, métricas de redes sociales, informes de marketing por correo electrónico).
  8. Como parte del Equipo de Comunicación de MarAlliance, apoyar al Coordinador de Comunicación y Marketing en cualquier otro proyecto de comunicación, coherente con las habilidades y experiencia del titular del puesto, en circunstancias no rutinarias.

Experiencia, conocimientos y aptitudes requeridos:

  1. Licenciatura en comunicación, periodismo, marketing o cualquier disciplina relacionada.
  2. Experiencia en comunicación digital o marketing.
  3. Pasión e interés por la naturaleza, la vida marina y la conservación.
  4. Capacidad demostrada para redactar y presentar comunicaciones creativas.
  5. Presencia y conocimientos de medios sociales y digitales.
  6. Capacidad para realizar múltiples tareas y detectar buenas historias.
  7. Capacidad para trabajar a distancia y cumplir los plazos establecidos.
  8. Conocimientos de diseño gráfico deseables, pero no necesarios.
  9. Conocimientos de edición de vídeo deseables pero no necesarios. 

Salario y prestaciones:

Estipendio durante 6 meses.


Español, con fluidez en inglés


Nacionales o residentes de Panamá, Belice, México, Honduras, Guatemala.

Este contrato será a distancia dentro de las zonas horarias de América, flexible, a tiempo completo y desde casa con hasta un 10% de viajes ocasionales locales e internacionales.

Cómo presentar la candidatura:

Por favor, envíe su currículum, portfolio si lo tiene, y carta de presentación a info@maralliance.org con “MAR-CA_Apellido” en el asunto antes del 21 de marzo, 2024. No se admiten llamadas.

Communications Assistant (Internship)

MarAlliance is an international non-profit registered in the US, Belize, Panama and Cabo Verde that aims to explore, enable and inspire positive changes for threatened marine wildlife – notably sharks and rays – their critical habitats and dependent human communities. Our remit is broad and ambitious, and we work in three languages and across seven countries encompassed by three regions. In the face of declines in many populations of marine megafauna, these species need a strong, effective, and science-based voice to represent them to help dependent partners shape management and conservation strategies and action to reverse declines.

Position summary:

We are seeking for a proactive, digitally savvy Paid Intern (6 month) Communications Assistant with excellent writing and copy editing skills, who will support the creation of high-quality written content and multichannel assets to broadcast the work MarAlliance does through its online (website, social media, newsletter, among others) and offline platforms, and engage with our external audiences to contribute to our overall communications and marketing goals. The Communications Assistant will directly report consistently to the Communications and Marketing Coordinator, and work closely with the rest of the team to support them on the communications elements of their work.

Duties and responsibilities will include but are not limited to:

  1. Provide creative, editorial, and operational project support. 
  2. Support organizing, labeling and tagging the photo archive and video archive management.
  3. Community Management: Actively manage social media channels, as well as identify new trends and collaboration opportunities. Generate reels and visuals.
  4. Support with writing blog articles (SEO) and newsletter content. 
  5. Help build and develop materials, toolkits, and actions for (online and offline) campaigns.
  6. Assist in different communications-related tasks working hand in hand with external contractors (web developer, graphic designer…) to improve the engagement of external audiences.
  7. Support in campaign and communications reporting (Google Analytics, social media metrics, email marketing reports)
  8. As part of the MarAlliance Communications Team, support the Communications and Marketing Coordinator with any other communications projects, consistent with the skills and expertise of the post holder, in non-routine circumstances.

Experience, Knowledge, and Skills Required:

  1. Bachelor’s degree in communications, journalism, marketing or any related discipline.
  2. Experience working in digital communications and or marketing.
  3. Passion and interest for nature, marine life and conservation.
  4. Proven ability to write and deliver creative communications.
  5. Social Media and digital presence and knowledge.
  6. Ability to multitask and spot good stories.
  7. Capable of working remotely and meeting established deadlines.
  8. Graphic design skills are desirable but not required.
  9. Video editing skills are desirable but not required.

Salary and benefits:

Stipend for 6 month.


English, Spanish are mandatory.


Panama, Belize, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala nationals or residents. 

This contract will be remote within the Americas time zones, flexible, full-time and home-based with up to 10% occasional local and international travel.

How to apply:

Please send your resume, portfolio if you have one, and cover letter to info@maralliance.org with “MAR-CA_Last name” in the subject line by 21st of March, 2024. No calls please.