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Brad Norman

Stars of the sea

Published in 2006clockTime to read: 45s
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To help protect the charismatic whale shark, the world’s biggest fish, Brad Norman created an identification system based on its celestial markings.

locationAustralia, Global

Before the swimmer’s eyes, glowing flecks shine like stars eerily transposed into the depths of the sea. Through a dark blue veil of water, a huge shape gradually resolves itself, rising slowly and majestically towards the surface.

Just about anyone with an underwater camera can now play a part in helping to conserve whale sharks.

After hundreds of sightings, Australian marine conservationist Brad Norman’s blood still thrills as the great, spotted whale shark comes fully into view, gliding effortlessly forward, its pale, metre-wide mouth agape to scoop up thousands of litres of protein-rich sea water.

Until recently not much was known about this elusive fish, which can reach 18 metres in length. From 1828 to the mid-1980s there were only 350 confirmed sightings of this enigmatic animal recorded worldwide.

Considered a species that is endangered, Norman set up the monitoring programme through the not-for-profit group ECOCEAN. As each whale shark has distinctive markings, Norman uses a pattern-recognition method invented to study constellations in the night sky to identify them. Divers across the world can upload images of these gentle giants, helping scientists to understand its mysterious ways. More than 7,000 individual whale sharks have been photographed and recorded by divers in 54 countries.

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