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A whale of a task

One of India's richest families is embarking on a new philanthropic mission: To save the endangered whale shark. The $62.5 billion family-owned chemical company and conglomerate Tata Group, run by fifth-generation chairman Ratan Tata, has signed an agreement with the Gujarat Forest Department and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) to undertake a conservation research programme on whale sharks and corals.

The programme aims to create awareness and undertake research to save the whale shark, which is both the world's largest fish and an endangered species.

Specifically, a study will be undertaken to understand the whale shark habitat; map its migration, various aspects of its lifecycle and its genetic patterns; estimate the population and document the results for effective and efficient protection.

A further study will explore whale shark tourism opportunities in the region making the project unique and a first-of-its-kind in the country.

Whale sharks, which can grow up to 40 feet long and weigh over 13 tonnes, are frequent visitors to the coastal shores of Gujarat. However, they were brutally hunted for their liver oil and meat before the practice was banned throughout India in 2001.

"We have been committed to the preservation of the environment together with the well being of the local communities that we are engaged with," said Homi Khusrokhan, managing director of Tata Chemicals.

"This initiative is our first step in taking the conservation efforts to a cause that is important globally and to understand through scientific research this rare species of fish whose numbers are dwindling. Creating awareness that this unique species frequents the shores of Gujarat could create opportunities in tourism for the state."

The research on corals will include the study of coral diversity, mapping, habitat, threats, and experiments for coral transplanting. The research inputs on coral will feed scientific information to the proposed interpretation centre at Dwarka/Mithapur and a major initiative in coral transplanting.

The Tata family says its philosophy of giving back to society is enshrined in the group's holding company, Tata Sons, where two-thirds of the equity is held by philanthropic trusts. In the past, these trusts have created national institutions in science and technology, medical research, social studies and the performing arts.

In total, the group estimates that the combined development-related expenditure of the Trusts and its various companies amounts to around 4% of the its net profits.

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