July 24 (UPI) -- Satellite tracking data suggests the waters surrounding the Philippines archipelago are vital to endangered whale sharks.
In 2015 and 2016, researchers with the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines attached satellite tags to 17 juvenile whale sharks. The most recent analysis of the satellite data -- published this week in the journal PeerJ -- revealed the importance of the Philippines archipelago to whale sharks.
Scientists attached tracking devices that floated above the sharks, attached by a thin tether. The new types of satellite tags ensure the devices breached the surface more often, returning clear signals and delivering more data.
Over the course of the tracking period, all 17 whale sharks remained in the vicinity of the archipelago. Despite traveling up to 30 miles per day -- in the case of one fast-swimming male -- the whales never left the islands.
Whale sharks are protected in the Philippines, but in 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature upgraded the species from "vulnerable" to "endangered" as a result of the population's dramatic decline in the Indo-Pacific. Illegal fishing remains one of the largest threats to the whale shark, Rhincodon typus.
In addition to combating illegal fishing activities, scientists say habitat protection is essential to whale shark conservation. And efforts like the latest satellite tracking survey can help conservationists decide where protections would prove most beneficial.
"This research highlights the high mobility of whale sharks, even juveniles, and the need for broader scale management and conservation plans for this endangered species," biologist Gonzalo Araujo said in a news release.