Gentle Giants

In recent news, there has been great outcry from conservationists in regards of the video of a man surfing on a Whale Shark in Venezuela. Not only is it disrespectful to the animal, but it is also illegal because the Whale Shark is listed as a vulnerable species and is protected by the Red List of Threatened Species.

In light of this atrocious disrespect for these majestic species, today’s post will discuss what makes this species of shark so special to me and the rest of the marine conservation world.

Whale Sharks, or Rhincodon typus, is both the largest species of shark and fish! They can grow to approximately 11 tons and the largest one measured was 40 ft long (we think they can get MUCH bigger)! Just for a size comparison, these guys are longer than a school bus!

 Look at the size of that one!

Additionally to their massive size, these sharks are known for their beautiful markings along their bodies. Each Whale Shark has its own unique markings, which has allowed researchers to identify hundreds of individuals using a computer system that was originally used to plot stars.

Unlike most sharks, these gentle giants are pelagic, which means they spend a majority of their time swimming the open ocean rather than staying close to the ocean floor. This relates back to their large appetite for plankton, which they filter using their teeth (similar to baleen whales). With their 5 ft wide mouths, they have no problem capturing the little critters! They’re often found quietly swimming in solitary, however in areas where plankton is found in abundance, they can be found gathering in large masses, feeding.

NOMS!

In general, Whale Sharks can be seen living in warm tropical waters across the globe. Research has shown that every year, they even migrate to the continental shelf in Australia. It is believed that they travel here for the nutrient rich waters that support a bounty supply of food.

Whale Shark distribution shown in dark blue.

Unfortunately, these elusive giants leave us with little knowledge on their breeding/birth (like most sharks) and their average life span. In the future, if we want to continue to see these massive fish we have to protect them and their food source. Even though they are protected by law, they are still under threat due to the demand surrounding their fins and meat, as well as injuries from boat propellers.

Education and conservation is key to getting the public involved and interested in saving the Whale Shark from extinction. One aquarium in particular is on the forefront of this task. The Georgia Aquarium currently has 4 Whale Sharks living in an aquarium that holds 6.3 million gallons of water and is up to 30 feet deep. If you’re lucky enough to have diving certification, you can have the opportunity to swim with and observe these giants at the aquarium. [Officially added to my Bucket List].

I know that keeping animals in captivity is a sensitive and controversial subject, but if I wouldn’t have visited zoos and aquariums during my childhood, I don’t believe I would have been inspired to work with whales and other ocean species.

If you are interested in helping protect this giant, you can donate to the WWF by “adopting” a Whale Shark here.

Happy Surfing! (Just avoid surfing on these lovely beings)

Sources and Photos:

http://www.finfighters.org/bloghome/2015/5/21/whale-sharks-the-spotted-gentle-giants-of-the-ocean

http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2015/06/22/Conservationists-urge-prosecution-of-men-surfing-on-whale-shark/4201434981702/

http://www.nature.org/newsfeatures/specialfeatures/animals/fish/whale-shark.xml

https://www.superstock.com/stock-photos-images/1597-147981

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whale_shark

http://blog.nus.edu.sg/lsm4262species/2013/04/15/conservation-of-a-mysterious-giant-the-whale-shark-rhincodon-typus/

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/whale-shark/#

https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/whale-shark

http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/gallery/descript/whaleshark/whaleshark.html

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/swimming-with-whale-sharks-160147604/

http://digitalnomad.nationalgeographic.com/2014/06/10/diving-with-whale-sharks-in-the-georgia-aquarium/

http://www.sharksider.com/great-white-shark/

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#CephalopodWeek: 8 Reasons Why Tentacles are Terrific

Welcome to my blog on all things ocean! Hope you enjoy reading!

In honor of Cephalopod Week, I decided to dedicate today’s post to these tentacled critters. For those of you who aren’t completely sure what a Cephalopod is:

“any of a class (Cephalopoda) of marine mollusks including squids, cuttlefishes, and octopuses that move by expelling water from a tubular siphon under the head and that have a group of muscular usually sucker-bearing arms around the front of the head, highly developed eyes, and usually a sac containing ink which is ejected for defense or concealment.”

In other words, a Cephalopod is any cute, little, ocean critter with tentacles who can squee out ink in a moments notice. Here are a few reasons why Cephalopods are more than calamari:

1. Oh you fancy, huh? All cephelopods, except nautilus, have the ability to change the color and texture of their skin using chromatophores. This skill is often used for camouflage so they can blend in with their surroundings and snatch up their unsuspecting prey.

Above, you can see a Cuttlefish camouflaging itself to look like the ocean floor!

Cuttlefish Photo

2. Houdini: Cephalopods are invertebrates, which means they do not have any bones in their body. This allows them to have extreme flexibility with their bodies where they can squeeze through any hole large enough that they can fit their beaks (essentially their mouths) into. When kept in aquariums, these critters need special containment as they are known to escape practically any situation, just like Houdini.

3. Smarty Panticles: These guys are known for their extreme intelligence, especially larger squid. To keep their minds busy, puzzles are often placed in their tanks. Enrichment tools are used to stimulate their brains similar to how they would be in the wild.

4. Monkey see, monkey do: Some Cephalopods, such as the Mimic octopus, take camouflage to another level. These octopuses change their appearance to resemble other predators or species local to their area. They can be commonly seen impersonating Sole fish, Lion fish, and Sea snakes.

The 3 photos on the left are of a Mimic octopus changing it’s appearance to resemble a Sole fish (Top right), Lion fish (Middle right), and a Sea snake (Bottom right).

Mimic Octopus Photo

5. How many arms can you count? Contrary to common belief, the appendages that Cephalopods have are actually called arms, NOT tentacles. Octopuses (Yes, this is the correct plural for Octopus) have 8 arms; Cuttlefishes and Squid have 8 arms and 2 tentacles used for feeding; While the nautilus outnumbers all of them with ~50 arms for females and ~90 arms for males.

6. Shot up like a weed! Because most Cephalopods only live to be approximately 1-2 years of age (with the exception of the nautilus. Again. That only becomes sexually mature at the age of 15.), their growth from a pearl-sized egg to a full-grown adult is quite fast.

It’s so tiny! octopus Photo

7. Speedy Gonzales: Certain species of squid are known to swim up to 25 mph, as fast as a shark! However, they can only swim at this speed for short bursts, similar to a sprint.

8. Check, Mate: Male Cephalopods deposit spermatocytes into the female, however there is no guarantee that her offspring will be carrying his genetics. Female Cephalopods have the ability to store the sperm of multiple suitors and decide which has the best genetics, then lay her eggs. Additionally, the female guards her eggs and keeps them oxygenated during their gestation, which can last for a few months, up to 4 years. During this time she does not eat. Mommy of the year award goes to the Cephalopods!

These ocean critters have many talents, from changing their identity to squeezing through tiny holes. It is fair to say that Cephalopods need no introduction. Visit your local aquarium to learn more about these neat animals or keep your eyes peeled for these hidden gems while scuba diving in the ocean!

Happy Cephalopod Week!

Sources:

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cephalopod

http://cephalopodweek.tumblr.com/

http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/Invertebrates/Facts/cephalopods/colordisguise.cfm

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/fourteen-fun-facts-about-squid-octopuses-and-other-cephalopods-45444510/?no-ist

http://mentalfloss.com/article/59250/9-fascinating-facts-about-cephalopods-monterey-bay-aquarium

http://marinebio.org/species.asp?id=260