Whale shark group book


The world’s largest fish, the whale shark, spends most of its time swimming slowly, swallowing large numbers of small creatures such as krill, suitable for a giant filter feeder. But this paradigm is imperfect: the giants have more complex hunting habits than previously thought.

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New observations from the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia show that these animals can hunt alongside other predators, including tuna, other sharks and underwater seabirds. In a recent clip captured in March 2020 by photographer Tom Cannon, at least three whale sharks were seen falling on a bait fish ball, a behavior rarely caught on camera.

“I’m seen those scenes a hundred times and it still shocks me,” said Emily Lester, a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian Institute of Oceanography and the lead author of a research paper published in February describing the meeting.

Krill and other plankton whales make up the bulk of the shark’s diet, and scientists have long known that small fish such as anchovies and sardines, and even occasional squid, appear on the menu. However, it is difficult to establish details of when, where and why these animals choose more substantial nutrition.

“Whale sharks are very mobile and can be really hard to study despite their size,” Lester says. Not only are behemoths able to swim across entire oceans, but they are also known to dive thousands of feet below the surface.

Whale shark encounters, such as the Ningaloo ‘, which takes place annually between March and August, provide scientists and marine enthusiasts with a unique opportunity to observe these invisible creatures in the shallow waters off the coast. Again, Lester notes that the occurrence of such a feeding event is like finding a needle in a haystack the size of an ocean.


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