Whale Shark Project - Tata Chemicals

By auther pic. Alka Talwar

May 28, 2021

Whale Shark Project - Tata Chemicals

Tata Chemicals

Whale Shark – The gentle giant is an endangered and the first fish breed to enjoy protection equal to that of the tiger, lion, and elephant in India. In 2004, Tata Chemicals Ltd. partnered with the Wildlife Trust of India, the Gujarat State Forest Department, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare to launch the 'Save the Whale Shark' campaign. The project has successfully rescued and released 813 whale sharks.


The project was launched with an aim to study and understand the whale shark habitat, map their migration, various aspects of its life cycle, their genetics patterns, estimate the population, and document the results for effective and efficient protection.


The conservation campaign message delivered by famous religious leader Shri Morari Bapu touched the hearts of many, related street plays were performed, and TCSRD's annual exhibition of a life-sized inflatable model of the Whale Shark managed to catch everyone's attention and transform hunters into protectors on the coastal region of Saurashtra.


Following these activities, whale shark satellite tagging revealed fascinating research and insights into this gentle species, such as the great distances these gentle giants travel across the ocean, their migratory pattern, and the discovery of neonates off the Gujarat coast, indicating whale shark breeding in these waters.


In the Gujarat state forest department has institutionalized the process of providing monetary relief to the fishermen towards damages of the fishing net the whale shark are rescued. Research work on whale shark biology including its feeding, breeding

and migratory patterns are continuing, and this will help establish scientifically knowledge about this species and help in its long-term survival.


Tata Chemicals is also working with the Eco Clubs in local schools to raise awareness on environmental conservation. The campaign has been consistently raising awareness, educating, and changing perceptions about the world's largest fish, protected by law - yet hunted.


The project has won the BNHS National Green Governance Award in 2005, the UNDP Biodiversity award in 2014, and has also been recognized as ‘Good Environment-Friendly Practice of Gujarat’ by the State Government in 2012.


How did TCL involve local communities and people in the campaign?


Tata Chemicals, the Wildlife Trust of India, and the Gujarat State Forest Dept. launched a strong awareness campaign to garner the participation of local communities in the campaign. Whale Shark Day celebrations and Mela were organized at coastal towns and cities to encourage people, including fishing community stakeholders, school and college students, to actively participate and lend their support to the preservation and conservation of whale sharks along Gujarat's coastline.


Thousands of schoolchildren and young people across Gujarat participated in the movement through marches, creating postal stamps, school drawing contests, exhibits, and fêtes with a whale shark conservation theme, helping to reposition the Whale Shark as Gujarat's Pride. This contributed to a massive groundswell of support.


Whale shark-themed street play was performed in all fishing settlements along the Saurashtra coast, and the societies vowed to protect the species as a result. The campaign's approach also drew on Indian traditional and cultural ethics such as "Ahimsa" (nonviolence) and "Atithi Devo Bhava" (Guest is God). This was made known by street plays performed in the fishing village.


To elicit an emotional response and arouse people's protective instincts, Shri Morari Bapu, a respected spiritual leader in the area and the campaign's ambassador, dubbed the Whale Shark 'Vahli' (the dear one) and compared it to a daughter returning to her maternal home ('maika') for childbirth. The campaign succeeded in embedding sustainable behavioral change among the coastal fishing communities by establishing a connection between conservation efforts and local customs.



Significance of this project


‘Project Whale Shark,' funded by Tata Chemicals, is India's only attempt to collect baseline data on the whale shark in order to help its long-term survival, involving public knowledge and scientific studies using photo-identification, genetic analysis, and satellite tagging.


Impact of the project


Overall the impact of this project is visible in the awareness it has created in the local communities. Local fishermen began releasing whale sharks trapped in their nets, and the State Forest Department reimbursed monetary losses sustained during rescues. Fishermen have been given waterproof cameras to take photos of the fish and rescue operations as evidence that they are eligible for cash relief from the Gujarat Forest Department, as well as to provide more information about the Whale Sharks that visit the Gujarat coast.


For the first time in India, the project resulted in the development of a Whale Shark rescue and release protocol. It also contributed to the global archive of Whale Shark research and helped forge an alliance between national and international organizations. The project has rescued and protected 813 whale sharks as of March 2021. There have been no reports of whale shark poaching along the Saurashtra coast.


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Ms. Alka Talwar currently holds the position of Chief - CSR and Sustainability Officer at Tata Chemicals Limited. She oversees all sustainability initiatives and disclosures for the company, promoting “Responsible Manufacturing” across geographies and the value chain. She also leads the diversity & inclusion and social development programs that include projects on natural resource management, environment conservation, rural energy, sustainable livelihoods and empowerment. Ms. Talwar has been associated with Tata Chemicals for more than 30 years and has worked in various functions which include heading the community development functions at Mithapur, Gujarat and at Babrala, Uttar Pradesh. An architect by education and a certified achievement motivation trainer, she is also the Hon. Trustee & Hon. Secretary of Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development, Okhai – Centre for Empowerment and Uday Foundation (only Hon. Trustee).


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