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For The Daily Beast:
Like too many other species, the world’s largest fish is in trouble.
Despite being listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), whale sharks are threatened by overfishing and human-caused damage to the ocean environment.
What makes the race against extinction even harder is the fact that scientists don’t have a precise idea of how many whale sharks are actually out there.
That may seem odd, because adult whale sharks can reach 10 meters (33 feet) in length, making them roughly the size of a school bus. However, they live much of their lives in open water; very few scientists had even seen one before the 1980s. Even with technological improvements over the last 30 years, it’s a difficult species to study, thanks to their lifestyle.
To get some idea about their numbers, researchers need to tell them apart. Each whale shark, has a unique pattern of lines and spots behind its gills, a sort of shark fingerprint.