Not only is this one seriously lucky whale shark pup (pause for a brief meep!), but it's also a very important one – the first of its size ever found in the Maldives! Until now, the youngest whale shark ever seen in the area was a whopping 11.5 feet long, but this tiny pup, found by fishermen near the A.A. Bodufolhudhoo community, measures up at just 1.5 feet!

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Image: Haveeru/Twitter

It can take a female whale shark up to 30 years to reach sexual maturity and fewer than 30 pups under a metre long have ever been documented – so every sighting of a youngster this small can have monumental implications for conservation. "We see [whale shark pups] so infrequently that I am beginning to think they are birthed on another planet and arrive through a wormhole," jokes Jason Allan Holmberg, who helped develop the whale shark photo ID app 'WildMe' and whale shark tagging database

Photographs of the tiny shark swimming in the pool of a local hotel initially sparked concern among experts when they surfaced on social media, along with rumours that the animal would be sold to a resort on the neighbouring island of Mathiveri – but conservation organisation EcoIslanders (who maintained contact with the fishermen to ensure the animal's safety) assures us the shark was in fact released and that the fishermen who found it "didn't have anything evil in mind".

Although the fishermen did travel to Mathiveri with the baby shark in tow (and the pup would certainly have been better off without a stressful swimming pool adventure), it was their daily fishing catch, and not the shark, that they intended to sell there. "It took time to unload the catch, so in the meantime they let baby whale shark take a swim in [the resort owner's] salt water pool, which had a direct intake from the sea," clarifies EcoIslanders. After a ten-minute swim with the tourists, the shark was released close to where it was found. 

Researchers at the Maldives Whaleshark Research Programme (MWRP) have added the pup (nicknamed 'Noomaa' meaning 'blue flower' in the local language, Dhivehi) to their identification database and hope to see its return. "The odds are of course stacked against it but to us this shark appears well nourished, which is a good sign," they say. "It never ceases to amaze us just how vulnerable these ocean giants are at this stage of their development."

Though it's speculated that the whale shark was born nearby, which would support the possibility of whale sharks breeding in the Maldives, the birthing patterns of these stunning fish remain largely a mystery – and a topic of great interest to scientists.

"Truth be told, we're none the wiser as to where these sharks give birth," says MWRP. "It's entirely possible that this shark was carried in by currents. There is no doubt, however, that this was a notable and hugely exciting encounter nonetheless!" 

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The baby was initially kept in the holding tank of the fishing vessel. Images: EcoIslanders/used with permission
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The pup swims in a direct sea water intake pool while the fisherman unload their catch. images: EcoIslanders/used with permission
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A successful release. Image: EcoIslanders/used with permission


Top header image: Simon J. Pierce

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