Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are known to aggregate at various locations globally, throughout warm and temperate seas. One small aggregation is found at Shib Habil, a nearshore reef located along the central Saudi Arabian Red Sea coast near the town of Al Lith. Monitoring of this aggregation has been ongoing for 8 years, using multiple methods to reveal a seasonal aggregation of both male and female juvenile sharks from March through May. During the 2017 season an alarmingly low number of sharks were sighted during both tourism and research visual surveys. Surveys from 2010-2016 showed an average of 51 sightings per year, while in 2017 there were only 2 confirmed sightings of sharks. Fluctuations, including declines, in whale shark abundance have been recorded at other aggregations globally, in some cases attributed to changes in oceanographic parameters. The Al Lith region is subject to a number of environmental stresses including; a significant artisanal fishing fleet, extensive fish and prawn aquaculture, and recent declines in coral cover. A series of hypotheses that may have influenced declines in whale shark abundance during the 2017 season will be discussed. Development within the region continues and potential increases in tourism and aquaculture associated with Vision 2030, make understanding the dynamics that effect whale sharks, an endangered species, ever more pressing.
Royale is originally from a small town located in Pennsylvania, in the US. Her passion for the ocean, led her to pursue her undergrad degree at the University of New England, Biddeford ME. While there, she spent most of her spare time volunteering at the Marine Animal Rehabilitation and Conservation Center on campus, where she worked with sick and injured seals and sea turtles for a little under 3 years. She spent some time as in intern in animal care and education in Florida before applying to KAUST. A semester abroad spent in Tanzania got her interested in whale shark aggregations and eventually led her to study whale sharks at KAUST.
She completed her Master's degree at KAUST in 2015 and remained in the Reef Ecology Lab for her PhD studies. Her broad research interests focus on whale shark aggregations and ecology. This involves working with photo identification of whale sharks from the aggregation found in Al Lith, Saudi Arabia. Royale's Master's work included taking a closer look at the genetics of this particular aggregation, as well as the Tanzanian aggregation, which continues to be an interest. Her current work includes investigating what the whale sharks at the Al Lith aggregation are eating and assisting with other ongoing whale shark projects. She is also interested in other cartilaginous fishes, but has plenty of love to go around for all ocean critters. Find her on Twitter @RoyaleWithSeas.