The latest pro-shark video from Blue Sphere Media and WildAid features Richard Branson swimming with whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) off of Mexico’s Isla Mujeres in order to raise awareness about protection of the species. Isla Mujeres has become a well-known aggregation point for whale sharks in the summer months, where hundreds of whale sharks gather each year to feed in the area’s nutrient rich waters.
While Branson refers to whale sharks as an “endangered species,” it should be noted that the IUCN actually list the species as “vulnerable” on the Red List, which is the next category below “endangered.”
Branson also tends to focus on the sharks being the victims of finning. However, the whale shark has been targeted in the past not only for its fins but also its meat and massive internal organs. For example, a recent feature on whale sharks in Kenya noted that the liver from a whale shark is a valuable commodity to fishermen. The IUCN also notes that whale shark populations have been depleted in some areas by harpoon fisheries and unintentional capture (or bycatch) by traditional fisheries.