Blog Tags: Whale Sharks
Today is International Whale Shark Day, so what better time to celebrate these magnificent creatures? Here are 10 facts to dazzle your friends with:
1. We know you’re wondering: whale shark – whale, or shark? The whale shark is a shark, and as a shark (and thus a fish), it is the largest fish in the sea. It breathes via its gills, and has cartilage instead of bone, making it a true shark. The name “whale shark” comes from the shark’s large size, which rivals some species of whales, and also because the shark is a filter feeder, like baleen whales.
Just a few weeks after we celebrated a soaring victory for sharks on the U.S. West Coast, Colombian authorities have reported that as many as 2,000 hammerhead, Galápagos and silky sharks may have been slaughtered in Colombia's Pacific waters.
According to the Colombian president’s top environmental adviser, divers saw 10 Costa Rican trawlers illegally entering the Malpelo wildlife sanctuary. When the divers swam down to the ocean floor, they found a shocking amount of sharks without their fins.
The Malpelo sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage site, provides an ideal habitat for threatened sharks. Unfortunately, the high concentration of sharks in the sanctuary draws illegal fishing boats from nearby nations.
It’s sad day for sharks, but we'll continue working to stop illegal fishing and shark finning. You can help by supporting our campaign to protect our ocean’s top predators from extinction.
Washington Post environment and politics reporter Juliet Eilperin has a new book out today that explores the science and mythology behind the ocean’s top predators.
In “Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks,” Eilperin travels the globe -- she swims with whale sharks in Belize and great white sharks in South Africa -- to investigate how individuals and cultures relate to sharks and how the misperceptions surrounding them threaten their continued existence on the planet.
The book also includes a few nods to Oceana’s shark campaign work, including our work to combat the use of squalane in beauty products, and actress January Jones’ visit to Capitol Hill to advocate for sharks.
But enough about us, be sure to check out NPR’s great interview with Eilperin, and catch her on tour in the coming months. You can see her full tour schedule as well as excerpts, reviews and other information about the book at www.demonfishbook.com.
Here’s a book trailer for “Demon Fish” to whet your appetite:
For her second “Scared for Sharks” PSA, “Mad Men” star January Jones joined Oceana in Belize to swim with the largest fish in the ocean: the whale shark.
Last spring, I traveled with Oceana to Belize’s Gladden Spit Marine Reserve to photograph and film whale sharks for the new "Scared for Sharks" PSA. It was my second time swimming with sharks, so I wasn’t as nervous, especially since whale sharks, like most sharks, are not a threat to humans.
It’s humans, in fact, who pose the greater risk to sharks because of our insatiable desire for shark fins, shark livers, shark teeth and every other shark product you can think of. Scientists say that tens of millions of sharks are killed every year for their fins, which is directly causing some shark populations around the world to crash.
On my second attempt to spot whale sharks yesterday, I flew with the effervescent Bonny Schumaker, whose organization On Wings of Care helps protect wildlife and their habitats by helping with search, rescue, rehabilitation and scientific research. Samantha Whitcraft of the non-profit Oceanic Defense also joined us for the flight. We took off from New Orleans and flew about 50 miles south over the Gulf.
Bonny and her 4-seater plane, whom she lovingly refers to as “Bessie,” have years of experience spotting wildlife. Unfortunately, despite Bonny and Bessie’s best efforts, the conditions yesterday were simply not ideal for finding marine life. Choppy waters and white caps made it a challenge to see much of anything besides oil rigs, oil boom and barrier islands:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!