According to a report last Wednesday from Discovery News,more than 420 whale sharks have gathered off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to form the largest known grouping of this species ever recorded by man. The discovery was made by the Smithsonian National Zoological Park and is challenging the belief that whale sharks are solitary filter feeders that prefer to wander alone through the deep waters of the open ocean.
Whale sharks can weigh close to 80,000 pounds and are believed to have gathered off the coast of Mexico to feed on dense patches of fish eggs that can be found here,according to Mike Maslanka,a biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the head of the Department of Nutrition Sciences. “Whale sharks are the largest species of fish in the world,yet they mostly feed on the smallest organisms in the ocean,such as zooplankton,” he said. “Our research revealed that in this case,the hundreds of whale sharks had gathered to feed on dense patches of fish eggs.”
Maslanka’s team used surface and aerial surveys to evaluate and study the large congregation of whale sharks,which can grow to lengths of more than 40 feet. Luckily,despite this enormous size,they are not aggressive and tend to move very slowly. Whale sharks move through the water with their mouths open,hoping to catch food and can be found in all tropical and sub-tropical oceanic regions on earth.
A second,smaller congregation was also located nearby off the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula,and is believed to have gathered in order to feast on the many small crustaceans and shrimp that are native to the area. According to researchers,the sex of the sharks is fairly evenly split,indicating that both males and females were drawn to the feeding opportunities.
“With two significant whale shark aggregation areas and at the very least one active spawning ground,the northeastern Yucatan marine region is a critical habitat that deserves a more concerted conservation effort.”