A team of scientists has tracked a whale shark (Rhincodon typus) across more than 20,000 kilometers (over 12,000 miles) of ocean, the longest migration ever recorded for the species.
In 2011, the researchers attached a transmitting tag to a shark they named "Anne" in the Pacific Ocean near Panama's Coiba Island. Over the next 841 days, Anne's transmitter would ping the ARGOS satellite whenever she swam near the surface. Those data points allowed the team to follow her movements south to the Galapagos Islands and clear across the Pacific to the Marianas Trench south of Japan and east of the Philippines—a distance of 20,142 kilometers (12,516 miles).
They reported their findings in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records in April.
The discovery solidifies the whale shark's place among the ocean's most widely traveled creatures, alongside leatherback sea turtles, gray whales and Arctic terns. Another whale shark tagged in 1995 held the previous record for the species with a 13,000-kilometer (8,100-mile) swim in 37 months.
But beyond knowing that they're capable of swimming vast distances–females can cover 67 kilometers (42 miles) in a single day—there's still a lot to learn about whale sharks.
"When I first began working on them, their taxonomy was debated, and it still wasn't clear how they reproduced," study co-author and biologist Scott Eckert of Principia College in Illinois said in a statement. "Despite being the world's largest fish, it's amazing to me how little we know about this species."
Part of the reason for those gaps in our knowledge is that whale sharks' movements are difficult to track. In the course of this research, the scientists had to contend with a 235-day period during which they received no transmissions from Anne's tag. She had likely dived too deep—whale sharks can plunge to depths of almost two kilometers, or more than a mile—for the tag to communicate with the satellite.
The team hopes that plotting out the course Anne and other whale sharks take will help to understand what motivates them.
"We have very little information about why whale sharks migrate," Héctor M. Guzmán, a marine biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the study's lead author, said in the statement. "Are they searching for food, seeking breeding opportunities or driven by some other impulse?"
Evidence has surfaced in previous studies showing that even whale sharks living thousands of kilometers away from each other are still pretty closely related, so reproduction probably has something to do with these long-distance treks.
A more nuanced understanding of their behavior could also help scientists, conservationists and policymakers try to navigate the challenge of protecting such a cosmopolitan animal, especially with all of the threats that whale sharks face. They can ingest plastic as they siphon plankton from the water column, and fishing boats target them for their fins, cartilage and meat.
Even the tourist boats that bring swimmers and divers who want to share the current with a fish that grows as long as 12 meters (40 feet) and weighs up to 19,000 kilograms (21 tons) could be posing problems. Guzmán said researchers have found that the whale sharks around Coiba Island try to stay away from people.
In 2016, the IUCN listed the species as endangered for the first time. And biologists figure that the world's tropical and subtropical seas hold fewer than half the number of whale sharks that they did 75 years ago, increasing the urgency for their protection.
"These studies are critical as we design international policy to protect transboundary species like the whale sharks and other highly migratory marine species," Guzmán said.
Scuba Divers Rescue World's Biggest Fish Trapped in Net https://t.co/8EUL7zTj6x @AnimalPlanet @peta @CenterForBioDiv @MercyForAnimals— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1502721748.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
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In this beautiful video from The Dodo, scuba divers rescue whale sharks stuck in a fishing net. The best part comes next—when the divers' newfound friends hang around to celebrate.
The extraordinary whale shark takes 30 years to reach maturity and can live more than 100 years. They can grow more than 40 feet long. They can even stand on their tails.
And while they are the largest fish in the sea, they are not predators, but rather filter feeders subsisting on the tiniest food available—zooplankton and small fish such as sardines and anchovies swimming into their open mouths.
Their size and thick skin help protect them from predators, but not from humans, as commercial fishing has exploited them to the brink of extinction.
This amazing footage was shared by Txus R. at Indocruises.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
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The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
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Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
An 18-foot long whale shark washed up dead on Pamban South Beach in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu on Tuesday.
"The cause of death is found to be heavy internal injuries it has suffered when it either hit a rock or a big vessel," local wildlife ranger S Sathish told the Times of India.
Whale sharks are considered "endangered" under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Its global population has shrank more than 50 percent over the last 75 years. Its greatest current threats include fisheries catches, bycatch in nets and vessel strikes, according to the IUCN.
Whale sharks are the the biggest fish and shark of the seas. The gentle giants are filter feeders that dine on plankton with its massively wide mouth.
But during a necropsy, wildlife officials also uncovered a plastic spoon stuck in the dead shark's digestive system. The plastic spoon was likely sucked into the animal's digestive system while it was eating, the officials explained.
"It is a stark revelation how plastic waste is getting into the marine eco-system. The marine species can't distinguish between a floating plastic and prey. We should avoid dumping plastic waste inside sea," Sathish added.
It's clear from this story and many others that plastic trash is a major threat to aquatic life. Australian scientists published a paper in July suggesting that plastic pollution is spread throughout the marine environment. An of-citied 2016 study also found that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish if our current consumption pattern continues.
The dead whale shark was buried on Pamban beach on Tuesday.
Humans Have Created 9 Billion Tons of Plastic in the last 67 Years https://t.co/xpBRuDC4AF— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@Robert F. Kennedy Jr)1500998733.0