Image: Baby whale shark
Elson Aca  /  World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines via AP
A rescued baby whale shark is returned to the sea off Pilar in eastern Philippines.
updated 3/10/2009 10:47:06 AM ET 2009-03-10T14:47:06

Activists in the Philippines have rescued what they believe might be the smallest offspring of the world's biggest fish — a whale shark the size of a forearm, a conservation group said Tuesday.

The World Wide Fund for Nature said maritime officials and activists in the town of Pilar in the eastern Philippines rescued the 15-inch-long whale shark last week and released it in deep waters. It was found on a beach with its tail tied to a small rope.

The group called it "arguably the smallest living whale shark in recorded history."

WWF said the discovery is the first ever indication that this coastline may be the birthing ground of the species. If that's proven, it could lead to protected spawning grounds.

Very few baby whale sharks have been found. In 1996, embryos found in a dead female  measured 14.6 to 18.9 inches, according to Elson Aca, project manager for the WWF whale shark tracking project.

The gentle creatures, which can grow to be as big as a bus, make regular stops along the Philippines' eastern shores from December to May, attracting thousands of tourists. But little is known about where they breed as they cruise the world seas.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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