Hakai Magazine


Expedition Shark: Philippines

Plunge into the waters of the Sulu Sea with scientists in pursuit of the largest fish in the ocean, the whale shark.

Authored by

by Steve De Neef and Gord More

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In May 2015, a scientific team ventured to Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park—a marine paradise within Asia’s Coral Triangle—to assess the biological status of the Philippines’ first ocean park. Over 1,000 species of animals, including many that are critically endangered, make their home in the sanctuary. It is essential habitat for the declining shark populations of Southeast Asia.

Though the area is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, little is known about its ecosystem, mostly because the tropical atoll is so remote—Tubbataha lies about 150 kilometers from the nearest port in the Sulu Sea. In the Samal language of the region, Tubbataha translates to “a long reef exposed at low tide.”

For two weeks, the 12-member team of Expedition Shark lived aboard the 24-meter MY Navorca, a World Wildlife Fund research vessel, and explored the stunning biological diversity of this hidden habitat. Notably, the team conducted the first ever shark survey within the marine park, via remote underwater video and through diving surveys. In this video, researchers follow and tag whale sharks.

The researchers plan another visit for next year: same time, same place.