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Citizen-Scientists Help Researchers Better Understand Endangered Whale Sharks

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Kim Bassos-Hull/Mote Marine Laboratory
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Mote Marine Laboratory scientists work to place a scientific tag on a whale shark in the Gulf of Mexico

New information about whale shark behavior, biology, and ecology is being released today in the scientific journal BioScience. The 22 year long citizen-science effort has given researchers a whole new understanding of the global behavior of endangered whale sharks. We’re joined by one of those researchers. Dr. Robert Hueter is a Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Shark Research, and the Perry W. Gilbert Chair in Shark Research, at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota.

The project, called Wildbook for Whale Sharks, invites divers, boaters, and ecotourists to submit photos of whale sharks’ unique spot patterns to an online database, helping scientists identify individual animals. The effort has helped describe 20 hotspots for whale sharks around the globe and has expanded scientists’ understanding of these mysterious sharks’ lives. 

Rachel Iacovone is a reporter and associate producer of Gulf Coast Live for WGCU News. Rachel came to WGCU as an intern in 2016, during the presidential race. She went on to cover Florida Gulf Coast University students at President Donald Trump's inauguration on Capitol Hill and Southwest Floridians in attendance at the following day's Women's March on Washington.Rachel was first contacted by WGCU when she was managing editor of FGCU's student-run media group, Eagle News. She helped take Eagle News from a weekly newspaper to a daily online publication with TV and radio branches within two years, winning the 2016 Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award for Best Use of Multimedia in a cross-platform series she led for National Coming Out Day. She also won the Mark of Excellence Award for Feature Writing for her five-month coverage of an FGCU student's transition from male to female.As a WGCU reporter, she produced the first radio story in WGCU's Curious Gulf Coast project, which answered the question: Does SWFL Have More Cases of Pediatric Cancer?Rachel graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.