Whale sharks spotted at beachside community in Abu Dhabi

Environment authorities monitoring the sharks seen swimming around Al Raha beach

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Environment authorities in Abu Dhabi are monitoring a pair of endangered whale sharks seen swimming around the waters of a beachside community.

Residents of Raha Beach spotted the two in the canals of the area over the past few days.

The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi - which is monitoring the sharks - implored people not to approach them.

“Considered endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list of threatened species, whale sharks appear occasionally in the marinas and waterways of Abu Dhabi during this time of year and are not harmful," it said.

“If you come across a whale shark, we urge you to not approach it and for boat drivers to keep a safe distance.”

One of two whale sharks spotted in the waters off Al Raha Beach in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy: David Broadway

Whale sharks are the largest living species of shark and can grow up to 12 metres and weigh as much as 40 tonnes.

They have a broad, flattened head with stripes and spots on their bodies and rows of more than 300 tiny teeth.

They are, however, gentle giants and filter feeders, existing on krill and plankton.

The message was echoed by Reef Check UAE, the local branch of the global research and education organisation which aims to protect the world’s oceans.

"If you see it take a picture of it but please don't try and interfere," Kathleen Russell, the owner and founder of Al Mahara Diving Centre, who runs Reef Check UAE, told The National.

“It’s possible they are following the flow of something, or they got lost in the channel.”

However, she said it is not unusual to see them so close to land. And just a few months ago residents of Al Raha Beach spotted another one.

“In the past year we have seen them in front of Saadiyat and Bateen. We have even seen them by the bay in front of Emirates Palace. So they have been along our coastline.”

However, she said date was lacking on the numbers of whale sharks in the area.

“They are in the Gulf but we are data deficient,” she said.

Ms Russell urged anyone who sees the whale sharks to report the sighting to the whaleshark.org site.

“If they are close to you, please swim at least a distance of three meters away and don’t swim in the front of them,” she wrote on her group's Facebook page.

"Anyone with an underwater camera should take a picture of their spots along the left side of their gills.

"This can serve as their unique identification and you can report this to the whaleshark.org site in which they can track the movements of reported whale sharks to collect more data for the whale sharks for conservation measures."

Whale sharks are believed to live as long as 130 years and are found in all warm waters of the world, although there are only thought to be around 7,000 left in the wild.

Despite their size, some have been captured and displayed in aquariums. A female whale shark with extensive abrasions was rescued from shallow waters in 2008 was briefly kept in Dubai’s Atlantis. However, the aquarium released it in 2010, after 19 months in captivity.

A tracker monitoring her movements fell off after 33 days, when she was in the waters off the coast of Qatar.

The Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi asked anyone who sees whale sharks to get in touch on 800555.