Satellite tracking shows migratory and feeding behavior of whale sharks

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The largest fish in the world, the globetrotter, sometimes basks in the coastal waters of the Panamanian Pacific.

There is, however, little additional information available regarding the habits of the local whale shark Rhincodon typus.

Researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, and the University of Panama studied variables trying to influence the behavioral patterns of this endangered species by tracking the whereabouts of 30 of them by satellite.

whale sharks

(Photo: EDIER ROSADO CHERREZ/AFP via Getty Images)


Whale sharks can choose from a wide variety of fish as they are the largest fish in the sea, reaching lengths of 40 feet or more. Lucky for most sea creatures and for us! – plankton is their favorite food, according to National Geographic.

As they swim close to the surface of the water, they scoop up these tiny plants and animals as well as any nearby small fish with their huge gaping mouths.

The whale shark is a filter feeder, as is the basking shark, the second largest fish in the world. The animal sticks out its huge jaws to eat, passively filtering out anything in its path.

The theory goes that the mechanism is a process known as cross-flow filtration, which is used by some bony fish as well as baleen whales.

The whale shark’s flattened head has a blunt snout beyond its mouth and short barbels protruding from its nostrils.

Its belly is white, and its back and sides are gray to brown with scattered white spots between faint vertical and horizontal stripes. Its body has two dorsal fins placed backwards and the large caudal fin with two lobes is at the end of the body (or tail).

All tropical seas are home to whale sharks, which prefer warmer waters. Each spring, they are known to migrate to the continental shelf of Australia’s central west coast. Ningaloo Reef, in the region’s coral spawn, provides an abundant supply of plankton for the whale shark.

Read more: Scientists use harpoons and Google Maps to track whale sharks

Conservation of whale sharks

R. Typus, like other large sharks, can begin to take years or even decades to mature and reproduce, leaving them open to population decline, especially in combination with threats from humans. , according to ScienceDaily.

For example, they run the risk of being hit by a ship when shipping lanes cross their feeding grounds or being accidentally caught in fishing nets. The first step in saving the whale shark species is being able to understand and predict its behavior.

Whale sharks primarily feed in the coastal waters, seamounts and ridges of the Panamanian Pacific, where they can find an abundant supply of their favorite foods: small fish and plankton, according to research on this species conducted by marine ecologist STRI Héctor Guzmán.

Additionally, they have been seen swimming north and south along the coast, towards Mexico and Ecuador, as well as towards the open ocean.

Guzmán said this species requires careful regional planning. Once the locations of the breeding and feeding areas have been determined, certain protective measures should be put in place.

Recently announced regional expansions of marine protected areas provide an intriguing framework for broad conservation efforts.

The creation of regional marine protected areas should not be the only conservation strategy used for highly migratory and endangered animals like the whale shark.

Related article: Great white sharks feast on a humpback whale carcass off Nantucket

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