Monday, February 01, 2010

Whale shark

This is a fish you don't see every day; in fact, most people who spend their lives in, on, under, or around the sea never see one.But if you ever do see a whale shark, the world's biggest fish, it's an experience you'll never forget - whale sharks reach lengths of 45 feet and weigh 27,000 pounds.Whale sharks live in all tropical and warm temperate seas (including the Gulf of Mexico), except the Mediterranean, and prefer water temperatures of 70 to 85 degrees.But they are open-ocean fish that spend most of the year alone, so they don't often come into contact with humans - eight times since 2001 people have reported whale shark sightings to The News-Press, most recently in August 2009.Several of those reports were from recreational fishermen who said that cobia and other fish were swimming with the whale shark.Although whale sharks mostly feed on plankton, they also eat small crustaceans, schooling fish and the occasional tuna and squid, but the big fish is harmless to humans, despite a mouth that could swallow a grown man whole.Like many sharks, whale sharks bear live young, and a 36-foot female harpooned in 1995 off Taiwan contained 300 embryos, ranging from 16-25 inches in length.These normally solitary animals do congregate at feeding areas such as the northern Gulf of Mexico, Holbox, Mexico, Belize, Utila in the Bay Islands of Honduras, and the northwest coast of Cuba.Whale sharks are protected in many parts of the world, including the United States, but fishing for the species occurs in Taiwan and the Philippines.In other areas, whale sharks have created an important tourist industry.At Holbox, for example, many commercial fishermen work as whale shark guides during the summer feeding aggregations - the locals call the fish "domino" because of its spots.

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