Despite its hulking appearance, the whale shark has only tiny, almost useless teeth and is sometimes so docile that entire boatloads of people can swim alongside the enigmatic, spotted beast. It’s also one of the least understood animals in the oceans.
“My skipper was trying to find some calmer water to get to the hole in the rock when she saw this giant thing moving towards the jetskis,” said Tango Jet Ski Tours owner operator Joff Bakx.
A stunning viral photo appears to show a massive whale sharklurking directly under a boat full of people.
The breathtaking shot was recently captured by photographer Tom Cannon in Ningaloo Reef, about 3.7 miles off the coast of Western Australia. Cannon and his friend, marine scientist and photographer Sam Lawrence, are the co-founders of an underwater photography company called Ocean Collective Media, which helps promote wildlife and oceanic preservation.
Cannon’s photo is particularly striking because the whale shark looks like it’s about to swallow the boat whole. But that’s actually not the case. Just take a look at how the boat is out of focus while the whale shark is crystal clear in the foreground of the photo. Like photos of tourists “holding” the Leaning Tower of Pisa, this optical illusion is created by a photography technique called forced perspective in which objects are made to appear larger, smaller, farther, or closer than they actually are.
“When I took the photo the whale shark was literally centimeters from my camera,” Cannon, 26, confirmed in an email to INSIDER. “The boat stayed several meters away to avoid any risk to the shark itself.”
Cannon came across this whale shark while on tour with Ningaloo Reef Dive and Snorkel. “This particular shark was really curious and spent the entire 50 minutes on the surface with us chasing bubbles and checking everybody out,” the photographer told South West News Service (SWNS). “The people on board were customers and staff members who were quite amazed to see the whale shark behaving this way.”
“This was a rare experience to have such a curious playful shark,” Cannon added. “They usually swim in straight lines in search of food.”
“They are a very docile fish and will often shy away from anything they feel threatened by,” Cannon told SWNS. “We are their biggest threat with the increasing pollution to our oceans. They need our help.”
MELBOURNE, Fla. (FOX 13) – Honey is more than delicious, it can be used as medicine, says one Florida zoo.
The Brevard Zoo has been using it to treat sea turtles with fresh, open wounds like ones caused by boats or predators. Officials said when raw honey is removed from a hive, it leaves traces of yeast, wax and pollen. All contain properties that “naturally clean wounds and encourage healthy tissue growth,” they said.
There happens to be a beehive at the zoo, and its honey has treated 14 sea turtles. Zoo officials said the honey helped their shells, which is made of bone and keratin, recover from those open wounds.
According to several studies, honey has been used for healing wounds since the “ancient times.”
A sea turtle swimming in Beirut, Lebanon. A new paper revealed that sea turtles use their limbs to assist with eating.JOSEPH EID/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
“Sea turtles don’t have a developed frontal cortex, independent articulating digits or any social learning. And yet here we have them ‘licking their fingers’ just like a kid who does have all those tools,” Kyle Van Houtan, science director at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, told the newspaper.
But Houtan and his team at the aquarium discovered that sea turtles use their fins in human-like ways. After surveying images and videos of the creatures, the team found how sea turtles use their fins. For example, one turtle leveraged a reef to break an anemone away for meal time and another rolled a scallop along the floor of the ocean.
The authors note in their paper, published in the journal PeerJ, that many marine tetrapods, or four-footed animals, do use their limbs to forage for food, though it is still rare.
“Despite being the oldest extant line of marine tetrapods, this is the first time such a wide range of limb-use has been described in marine turtles,” they write.
A sea turtle swims in Western France.LOIC VENANCE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
According to ScienceDaily, walruses, seals and manatees all exhibited these behaviors. This new paper shows that sea turtles are very similar to other groups of sea mammals. Study co-author Jessica Fujii, also of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said that using their limbs to dine isn’t efficient but is nevertheless helpful to sea turtles.
“Sea turtles’ limbs have evolved mostly for locomotion, not for manipulating prey,” Fujii said in Science Daily. “But that they’re doing it anyway suggests that, even if it’s not the most efficient or effective way, it’s better than not using them at all.”
Although not perfected, these skills are vital as most sea turtles are carnivorous, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Tracking down that jellyfish for dinner definitely takes some maneuvering.
Previously, researchers believed that marine mammals could be so large because the buoyancy of water frees them from the constraints of gravity. Although this freedom may still be a factor, Gearty says that his results show that marine mammals need their heft to keep themselves warm in the often chilly oceans.
“These animals are big for very specific reasons. It’s not that they could be big, it’s that they must be big,” he says.
BIGGER IS BETTER?
When Gearty and colleagues created a series of computer models analyzing factors that influence size, they found two that converged to determine body size in aquatic mammals.
But larger animals need more food to support their bulk, which created the second factor in Gearty’s model. Big mammals may trap heat better, but if they can’t get enough food to fuel their metabolism, then it doesn’t matter. (See National Geographic’s amazing whale pictures.)
Body size is one of the most important traits to study in animals, according to Chris Venditti, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in England who wasn’t involved in the new study.
“If you’re going to measure one thing in an animal, it should be body size because that one thing is related to so many others,” Venditti says. “If you know how big an animal is, you probably know something about how it moves and its metabolic rate.”
In the last five years, scientists have uncovered evidence showing that, over time, families of mammals have tended to evolve larger body sizes. Bulkier animals can better fight off rivals for mating, food, and other resources, as well as access a wider variety of foods.
Land mammals, however, are hemmed in by gravity: They need massive bones and blood vessels to support their bulk while maintaining mobility—no easy feat when you tip the scales at several tons, like an elephant. (Read how blue whales are mostly “left-handed.”)
Initially, when Gearty started studying the factors that affected body size in marine mammals, he thought that he would simply see the elimination of gravity as a constraint.
Instead, his data told him that the minimum size of aquatic mammals was a thousand times larger than the smallest terrestrial mammals. The maximum size, however, was only 25 times larger, which meant that something must be forcing marine mammals to get large.
Scientists still haven’t entirely cracked the mystery of what determines body size in animals, Venditti says, but that hasn’t stopped life from evolving an array of shapes and sizes to fill every niche.
By-catch deaths of five Hector’s dolphins in fishing nets off the Canterbury coast has prompted an order to fast-track work on a new protection plan for the nationally endangered species.
The dolphins were trapped in a commercial set net about six nautical miles north of Banks Peninsula on February 17, and their deaths were reported to Fisheries Inshore New Zealand (FINZ), and to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
There were an estimated 9000 Hector’s dolphins off the South Island’s east coast, and these were a sub-group of the wider South Island population of 15,000 mammals.
Fisheries officials believe the east coast population may be declining.
Hector’s dolphins live close to the coast, making them highly vulnerable to being caught in set nets.
Official records show 188 Hector’s and Maui dolphin are known to have been killed in set nets since 1973, although potential Hector’s dolphin captures could range between 19 and 78 each year.
Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage have now pointed out areas where more work needs to be done and have asked whether changes can be made to some fishing practices in the short-term.
Options included prioritising the development of a new Threat Management Plan (TMP) for Maui and Hector’s dolphins, reviewing the use of set nets in a bid to reduce or phase out their use, and considering extending the ban on set nets in the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary further offshore.
Other potential measures included encouraging voluntary closures of certain fisheries to set nets, such as those recently put in place by commercial set netters to protect the yellow-eyed penguin off Southland, and reviewing the role of observers and camera coverage on fishing boats.
Nash said the fisherman did the right thing by coming forward to report the catch, as legally required.
FINZ chief executive Dr Jeremy Helson had since told him that the fisherman “deeply regrets” the capture and had now decided to stop set netting in the area, Nash said.
“I am also advised he appears to have been fishing outside the area closed to set netting, although MPI compliance staff are still assessing the incident.”
Nash and Sage are overseeing a review of the TMP, in place since 2008, which will consider longer-term measures to better protect the dolphins from the risks of set netting and deaths caused by other human activity.
“In light of this capture, I have asked officials to prioritise the development of a new plan,” Nash said.
Sage said the “needless” deaths of five dolphins in one set net underlined an ongoing problem of set net use in places where highly endangered species, like Hector’s and Maui dolphins live, “and the indiscriminate nature of set nets as a fishing method”.
As well as Hector’s and Maui dolphins, set nets caught and drowned seabirds such as yellow-eyed penguin, little blue and Fiordland crested penguins, shags, shearwaters and terns.
“Areas around Banks Peninsula and on the North Island’s West Coast have been closed to set nets to protect Hector’s and Maui dolphins, but dolphins and seabirds continue to get caught and die in set nets,” Sage said.
“Having a serious look at how to best phase out these near invisible and deadly mono-filament gill nets is long overdue. Fishers can use other methods to catch target species such as butterfish, mullet, rig and school shark.”
Sage believed New Zealand could follow the example of American states such as California and North Carolina, which have banned commercial set nets to protect endangered seabirds, marine mammals and turtles.
“South Australia has done the same to protect the Australasian sea lion, as has Finland for the Saimaa ringed seal.”
In a media statement today, Helson reaffirmed the industry regretted the incident.
“The fisher involved is also deeply affected and has moved completely out of the area in which the incident occurred.”
FINZ had “moved quickly” to suggest that MPI bring forward the review of the Hector’s dolphin threat management plan, along with measures that will help to prevent such an incident happening again, Helson said.
“This incident is regrettable, unusual, and upsetting for all involved.”
Helson noted in a letter to Nash that MPI had estimated more than 95 Hector’s dolphin mortalities would need to occur annually before the species’ long-term viability would be at risk.
“While fishing mortality is estimated to be well within those bounds, the seafood industry is committed to reducing our impacts on the marine environment.”
ATLANTIC OCEAN—Concerned that the unappealing affliction would spoil his plans for a romantic evening, an embarrassed right whale was reportedly panicking Monday after having a huge barnacle outbreak before an upcoming date. “Oh god, I look terrible, they’re all over my face,” said the mortified cetacean, scrambling in vain to clear his skin by rubbing against a nearby rock outcropping. “I can’t believe this, I haven’t had a single barnacle in months, and tonight of all nights I get dozens of them. The worst part is, there’s basically nothing I can do about it. I guess I’ll just take her to a darker part of the ocean and hope she doesn’t notice. This is so humiliating.” At press time, the whale was reportedly feeling much more relaxed after his companion showed up for their date with her face completely covered in a fishing net.
There is little reason to wonder why Nicaragua is known as the land of lakes and volcanoes when you witness its dramatic volcanic landscape filled with vast forests, lagoons, lakes and pristine beaches. Located in the middle of the Americas, Nicaragua is home to a rich variety of plants and animals, and its beaches provide important nesting habitat for sea turtles.
Globally, there are seven species of sea turtle swimming in our oceans. Sea turtles are generally long-lived and can migrate vast distances between feeding sites and nesting beaches. They face a multitude of threats including poaching for their eggs, meat and shells, accidental entanglement in fishing nets and the potentially detrimental effect of climate change on hatchling sex ratio.
In Nicaragua, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) focuses on protecting three sea turtle species: hawksbill, leatherback and olive ridley – all of which are sadly included on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The hawksbill turtle has a distinctive pattern of overlapping scales that form a serrated look on the edge of its shell. This beautifully patterned shell is commonly referred to as “tortoiseshell”. Hawksbills use their narrow head and pointy beak to find food, such as sponges, in hard-to-reach places. They are found throughout the world’s tropical oceans, but are most often encountered near coastlines among coral reefs.
The leatherback is the largest sea turtle species, growing up to seven feet long and frequently exceeding 900 kilogrammes. Their shell is leather-like and flexible rather than hard, and features seven narrow ridges running the length of the carapace (top shell). Leatherbacks have the widest global distribution of any sea turtle and are found throughout the world’s oceans.
The olive ridley is the second smallest sea turtle, and gains its name from the olive-green hue of its shell. These turtles prefer the open ocean and come together as a group once a year for the arribada, when females nest in vast numbers on the same beaches – sometimes in their thousands.
Turning poachers into protectors
FFI is reducing poaching of sea turtles and their eggs by turning poachers into turtle protectors. Having identified priority nesting beaches, FFI has been working with local communities to provide education and sustainable livelihood opportunities. For example, economic incentives have led to many local people choosing to patrol nesting beaches and protect sea turtles and their eggs instead of poaching.
As a result of this work, on several beaches poaching of nests has dramatically reduced from all eggs being taken to none. In addition, national public education campaigns, “Yo no como huevos de tortugas” (I don’t eat turtle eggs) and “Yo no uso carey” (I don’t use tortoiseshell), are changing public perceptions about turtle egg consumption and shell use. FFI is also eliminating destructive fishing practices to protect marine habitat and reduce the accidental capture of sea turtles.
As a result of this work, over 90% of Nicaragua’s nesting leatherbacks, and 42% of all hawksbill turtles in the entire eastern Pacific Ocean are now protected by FFI’s team in Nicaragua.
However, sea turtles are long-lived, so we will not truly see the impact of our work until the turtle hatchlings we are protecting today are old enough to return to nest on the beaches where they were born. Only then will we see changes to overall population numbers.
While there are still enough males out there to breed with females and maintain genetic diversity, experts say they’re not sure how long that will last.
The culprit? Higher temperatures caused by a changing climate. The sex of a sea turtle hatchling is determined by the temperature of the sand around the eggs. The hotter the sand, the greater the chance the hatchlings will be female.
And in recent years, Florida has simply been too hot to produce many males.
Scientists say there are some artificial means of keeping turtle nests cooler so they can produce more males. But that, experts say, is merely buying time.