One of the small things in life that still proves to excite and amaze is the fact that there’s still so much of the natural world that we know nothing about. Microscopic bacteria, Amazonian plant life, galactic dark matter and deep-sea marine life all provide all sorts of mystery and excitement — that the scientist in me finds fascinating. Which brings me to the story of the Basking Shark.
The basking shark is the second largest shark in the world (the whale shark is first), but very little is known about the benign giant. What is known is that basking sharks like to spend the warmer months (Spring through Fall) in the moderate waters of the upper hemisphere. Here in cooler waters the giant fish likes to travel the seas, mouth-wide-open, in search of plankton. However, once winter hits the basking shark disappears.
For fifty years scientists have searched far and wide in an attempt to find where the basking shark goes. Well, today the mystery has been solved. Apparently the cool-water basking shark likes to spend the winter deep down in the depths of the warm-water Caribbean, a result that surprised many. Greg Skomal, the head of the recent discovery noted that “This is equivalent to finding polar bears in Kansas.”
Skomal and his team were able to track the sharks using complicated tracking devices and satellite technology, but have found just as many questions as they found answers. Like, for example, what the basking shark is doing down in the Caribbean.
Skomal hypothesizes that it is the location of the basking shark’s breeding ground, an hypothesis that makes sense as there has never been a reported sighting of a baby basking shark (or a pregnant one for that matter). Still, as the sharks like to hang out at depths up to 3,000 feet below sea level for months at a time, it will be difficult to find out what exactly the basking shark does down in the depths.
(photo courtesy of DiscoverMagazine.com)