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.
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
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