The Beacon

Blog Tags: Whale Sharks

Tiny Planes and Tar Balls

I’m here in steamy Gulfport, Mississippi helping out with our expedition in the Gulf of Mexico. The second largest city in Mississippi, Gulfport was demolished by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and has taken an environmental and economic hit from the oil spill.

Yesterday I went up in a spotter plane to try and spot whale sharks. If we caught sight of one, we planned to radio to our boat, the Latitude, and let the crew know where the sharks were so they could tag them.

Unfortunately, we had to turn back to the airport before spotting anything – except some abandoned oil boom and a few dolphins -- because the clouds began to look ominous, and the pilot didn’t want to risk getting caught in a thunderstorm (nor did I). It was quite a treat to be up in a four-seater plane looking over the vast network of wetlands and tributaries that empty into the Gulf of Mexico.


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Swimming With Belize's Gentle Giants

© Tony Rath

Happy Shark Week! Oceana scientist Margot Stiles wrote this post for us back in May, but in honor of Shark Week, and because I like it so much, here it is again for your reading pleasure.

Have you ever swum with sharks? Let us know in the comments! - Emily

Every spring Belize hosts one of nature’s great wonders: the arrival of whale sharks in search of spawning snapper. This year I had the pleasure of witnessing it first hand, on last month’s Oceana expedition.

The whale shark is the largest fish in the sea at 60 feet long, but it is mild-mannered and harmless to people. Around the full moons of March through June each year, whale sharks arrive and begin feeding at the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve near Placencia, Belize.

Tony Rath of Naturalight Productions has spent thirty years photographing wildlife in Belize and still beams at the mention of his most recent expedition with Oceana. “Seeing whale sharks this close is an unforgettable experience, as inspiring as seeing a puma or any of the large animals on land,” he said.


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Guest Post: Gulf Sharks Threatened by the Oil Spill

whale shark

© Oceana/Carlos Suarez

Our friends at Oceans4Ever are hosting the first ever Summer Sharktakular this week, along with shark blogger extraordinare, David Shiffman. David wrote this guest post for us about the threats facing sharks in the Gulf. Be sure to check out the rest of the Sharktakular this week! - Emily

Many threats facing sharks, such as bycatch and finning, are well known to conservationists. Less well known, but just as serious to some species, are the threats to sharks from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sharks can come into direct contact with oil on the surface, which appears to be happening to whale sharks. These threatened animals, the largest fish in the sea, feed by filtering plankton out of the water. In other words, they swim with their mouths open near the surface, which is a surefire recipe to ingest floating oil.

The estuaries of the northern Gulf are important nurseries for a variety of smaller shark species. Newborn sharks use the shallow waters, safe from predators and full of food, as a safe place to grow up. Oil has reached many of these estuaries, with unknown (but undoubtedly bad) long-term effects on the species that use them. Entire year-classes of some populations may die as their nursery grounds become poisoned.


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Surfer Holly Beck Swims with Sharks

Holly Beck has an enviable life. A world-class surfer and model, she spends most of the year traveling to the world’s most beautiful places.

Here’s one more reason to envy her -- the Oceana supporter also recently swam with whale sharks and great white sharks. Watch the video below to see footage of Beck swimming within inches of whale sharks and getting giddy when she sees great whites.

After swimming with the great whites she says, “Trust me on this one, the shark didn’t want to eat me.”

Coincidentally, the scientist tagging whale sharks in the first part of the video is Rachel Graham, who has worked with our colleagues in Belize.

You can take action for sharks with another blonde beauty who loves sharks, January Jones, and learn more about Holly Beck at her blog.


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Fact of the Day: Whale Sharks

In honor of Shark Week, which is just a few short weeks away, my first “Fact of the Day” post will be about -- you guessed it -- sharks!

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world. These sharks grow up to 65 feet (20 meters) long and their mouths are 5 feet (1.5 meters) wide.

And here’s a bonus fact: whale sharks have the thickest skin of any animal in the world at up to 4 inches thick.

Curious for more? Be sure to come back tomorrow for another exciting fact or check out Oceana.org/Explore and do some investigating on your own!


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Whale Sharks: Belize’s Gentle Giants

whale shark

© 2010 Tony Rath/tonyrath.com

And now, for something entirely different… a brief respite from the oil spill madness. A reminder of the beauty of the seas from Oceana scientist Margot Stiles. - Emily

Every spring Belize hosts one of nature’s great wonders: the arrival of whale sharks in search of spawning snapper. This year I had the pleasure of witnessing it first hand, on last month’s Oceana expedition.

The whale shark is the largest fish in the sea at 60 feet long, but it is mild-mannered and harmless to people. Around the full moons of March through June each year, whale sharks arrive and begin feeding at the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve near Placencia, Belize.

Tony Rath of Naturalight Productions has spent thirty years photographing wildlife in Belize and still beams at the mention of his most recent expedition with Oceana. “Seeing whale sharks this close is an unforgettable experience, as inspiring as seeing a puma or any of the large animals on land,” he said.

I couldn’t agree more. Despite hundreds of dives around the world, I found swimming side-by-side with a whale shark truly sublime, a transcendent moment I’ll look back on for many years to come.


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Whale...Shark Wednesday

whale shark

In keeping with this week's theme, today is Whale Shark Wednesday, of course. I thought we'd take a day to step back and appreciate the biggest fish in the sea, the whale shark. Here are five things you might not know about the beautiful predators: 1. You could fit inside a whale shark's five-foot-wide-mouth, but they wouldn't want you in there. Whale sharks eat plankton. 2. Whale sharks have the thickest skin of any animal, at up to 4 inches thick. 3. They can live up to 100 years old and may have up to 300 young per litter. 4. A majority of whale sharks are caught for their fins before they even reach maturity. As a result, whale shark populations are decreasing in numerous regions and the average size of Australian whale sharks is shrinking. 5. Every whale shark has a unique pattern of white spots on its back, allowing scientists to identify individuals. (Plus it makes them mesmerizing to look at.)


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