Saturday, May 9, 2009
Get a load of this monster!
Wired’s Science Blog has a wild post about basking sharks and their winter vacation homes. The second largest shark species, which can grow up to 33 feet long, spends the spring, summer and fall in warmer oceans but seems to disappear in the winter.
Until now, researchers had no idea where they went or what they did.
“It’s been a big mystery for the past fifty years,” said Greg Skomal, an aquatic biologist at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. “For a while people thought they were hibernating on the sea floor, even though hibernating is not really something sharks do.”
Skomal tagged the giant fish off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts and tracked them by satellite, piecing together their mysterious winter wanderings. He discovered the beasts were absconding to the depths of the Caribbean, some voyaging as far as the Brazilian coast, though the attraction of these destinations poses yet another mystery.
“What they’re doing there — therein lies the mystery,” said Skomal. “If you’re a basking shark you can go to Georgia in the wintertime and be at the right temperature and depth and have plenty of food, so that’s optimal. So why travel three to four times that distance?”
He hypothesizes the trip may have to do with reproduction, another area that has long baffled basking shark researchers.
“No one has ever seen a baby basking shark, no one’s found a pregnant shark, knows when they reproduce or what their gestation period is,” said Skomal.
Wild right? No one has ever seen a baby basking shark! But what really gets me is that they’re tagging these beasts off the coast of Cape Cod – the very same waters that we swim and play in all summer long (technically we’re just north of the area). And while the local plankton and krill populations have more to fear than I do, finding myself in the water with one of these beasts would give me a heart attack.