International Whale Shark Day
August 30 has been designated International Whale Shark Day so COAST IS CLEAR is giving a tip of the fin to these gentle giants of the sea.
Whale sharks – which are indeed sharks – can grow to 46 feet in length and weigh about 24,000 pounds, but they are so docile that many unthinking scuba divers have been filmed hitching a ride on their back.
International Whale Shark Day has been celebrated since 2012 to raise awareness about this endangered species.
According to Greenpeace, the whale shark is the largest living species of shark. Each whale shark’s skin pattern is unique – a fact that allows researchers to easily identify and track individual whale sharks.
Sadly, because they prefer to roam shallow seas they are vulnerable to run-ins with ships and fishing nets; another threat comes from plastic pollution.
Despite being large sharks, these behemoths have small mouths and throats and are filter feeders that dine on plankton and small squid or fish. While vacuuming the ocean for food, the whale shark sometimes sucks in plastic which can then block their ability to feed and get nutrition.
“Generally when we see animals ingesting plastics we find those plastics get lodged in their digestive tract, reducing their ability to eat and at times starving the animal,” says Brett Monroe Garner, a conservation photographer and marine biologist. “Whale sharks feed at the surface where they filter large quantities of water through their mouths, so surely they are sucking in and ingesting plastics floating about.”
Pierre-Yves Cousteau, the youngest son of the legendary Jacques Cousteau, tells The Outdoor Journal, “Plastic cups, cutlery, bags … Even synthetic clothing fibers have a large impact when they are washed and fray. All this plastic we use breaks down to molecular levels and enters the food chain, eventually ending up in our dinner plates!”
Keeping our coast clear