This Collection contains the output of the Third International Whale Shark Conference (IWSC3), which took place 6-10 October 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia USA to explore and disseminate the most recent scientific and conservation advances pertaining to the world’s largest fish species. Distributed throughout the tropical oceans of the world, the whale shark is a gentle giant, filter-feeding on plankton and other small pelagic animals and migrating on vast oceanic scales. It was long thought to be a solitary species, but more recent research has shown that whale sharks can and do form large aggregations close to the coast when conditions are right. These coastal aggregations or “constellations” provide an unparalleled opportunity for scientific studies of a species that is otherwise an intractable subject for scientific research. These studies have been aided by advances in tagging technology that are revealing the secret lives of whale sharks in ways never before possible. Other opportunities for scientific advance have been afforded by the maintenance of whale sharks in a handful of large public aquariums around the world. These advances are significant because the species is subject to illegal harvesting, environmental stressors and an under-regulated increase in ecotourism activities.
Research and conservation efforts have increased dramatically since the last IWSC meeting in Holbox, Mexico in 2008 and the third conference addressed advances in all topics including biology, population ecology, genetics, conservation biology and nutrition, as well as veterinary care and husbandry techniques for aquarium held animals. An IUCN Red List Workshop was also held at the conference in order to assess the global conservation status of whale sharks.