Whale Sharks Aggregate in the Red Sea

The Science Teacher, October 2014 | Go to article overview

Whale Sharks Aggregate in the Red Sea


A newly discovered aggregation of juvenile whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) off Saudi Arabia is giving researchers a rare glimpse into the lives of these gentle giants and the world's largest fish.

Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and colleagues from other institutions report on the movements of whale sharks tagged at the site in a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

During fieldwork in 2009, the research team found hundreds of juvenile whale sharks gathering on coral reefs near Al-Lith on the central coast of the Saudi Arabian Red Sea.

"The fact that there were so many whale sharks in such a small area gave us an opportunity to begin an unprecedented study to answer some of the basic questions," said Simon Thorrold, a biologist at WHOI and coauthor of the paper. "The discovery of the site provides a window into the movements and ecology of the species in a region that we were not necessarily expecting to see them in such high numbers."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The research team used three types of satellite transmitting tags to track the movements of 47 whale sharks from 2009 through 2011. The tags, which are placed just below the dorsal fins, measure temperature, depth, and light levels of the waters the fish swim in. After several months, the tags pop off, float to the surface, and beam data via the ARGO satellite system back to computers on shore.

Diving data from the tags revealed the sharks made frequent deep dives to at least 500 m (1,640 ft.). Three of the tagged sharks made excursions below 1,000 m (3,281 ft. …

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