Our first selection today is also a childhood favorite of mine (I used to look at the pictures in it every time I got my eyes dilated at the ophthalmologist's), and to me is the book equivalent of the Blue Planet series. The Ocean World by Jacques Cousteau is still for me the most comprehensive and diverse book on marine life by far. A beautifully photographed, easy to read coffee table-sized book, it is a magnificent work by perhaps the father of modern marine biology. Again, I feel that it is important to put sharks in context, so this is our "a shark's world" work of the day. You can snag it from Amazon here.
When you say the word "shark," most people immediately think of a great white shark. It is probably the best known because of its dangerous reputation. But there are over 350 species of sharks, many of which feed on plankton and are harmless to people. One of these plankton-feeders is the whale shark. This beautiful creature is the biggest fish on the planet (the largest one according to Guinness was over 41 feet long!). I have become much more enamored of these sharks after seeing them at the Georgia Aquarium and attending a recent lecture there about an aggregation of whale sharks that happens every summer off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Here's a great video about these big, big fish:
There are so many amazing things about whale sharks, but here are my five favorite facts:
- They eat about nine pounds of food an hour (little tiny plankton filtered out of lots of water) when they're really getting into it in a good feeding ground.
- The filtration pads in their mouths are weird, branching organic honeycombs that let them eat and breathe at the same time with ingenious efficiency.
- Although they are enormous creatures, and are very good at doing what they do, they are fish of relatively very little brain and do not appear to have complex social skills.
- A mama whale shark can have up to 300 pups at a time (in a live birth)!
- Whale sharks dive to the depths (sometimes for over a mile down) for short periods of time, and no one knows exactly why.
Widge has also had the privilege of seeing whale sharks in captivity, and he asked what a lot of you might ask as well: "How the hell do you get a whale shark from Taiwan to the state of Georgia?" here's another video, this one about how the Georgia Aquarium's newest two whale sharks arrived at the facility, and a little more information about the research being done with the animals there.
And finally, to put things in perspective a bit after looking at the largest shark (and the largest fish, for that matter), we will talk about the smallest ones. First, the pygmy shark. The very largest of these (females are bigger than males) are 27 centimeters (or about 10.5 inches). Recently, however, the pygmy shark has lost its claim to be the smallest. The dwarf lanternshark only grows to be 17 centimeters, (or a little over 6.5 inches). They live in deep water and eat tiny fish and shrimp.
That's all for today, boys and girls. Tune in for more shark fun tomorrow, and have some more coffee while you're at it.
Did you miss Day One? Here you go...