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Page added on March 27, 2016

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The World’s Largest Fish Are Missing

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Researchers say the biggest whale sharks have disappeared over the past two decades, raising concerns about the long-lived giant fish.

Scientists are finding that even the world’s largest fish can hide in the vastness of the ocean.

Or at least, they’re hoping that’s the case. The other option is that adult whale sharks are disappearing.

In a new study published Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science, researchers at the University of Western Australia raised concerns about where the world’s largest whale sharks have gone, as the size of the biggest sharks observed in recent years pale in comparison to those recorded more than a decade ago.

Whale sharks measuring between 43 and 49 feet were observed in oceans around the world in 1995, from India to Belize. In more recent years, reports have shown that aside from two populations of adult female sharks in the East Pacific, most locations consisted only of juvenile sharks measuring less than 23 feet in length.

Ana Sequeira, a research associate at University of Western Australia and the study’s lead author, started looking at whale sharks around the coral reefs of Western Australia’s Ningaloo Coast and subsequently expanded the study worldwide.

“The majority of whale sharks seen at Ningaloo were juveniles with mean lengths of around six meters (20 feet),” Sequeira said in a statement. “Given the fact that the fish reach maturity when they are about nine meters long (29 feet), it prompts the question: Where are the adults?”

The answer remains a mystery, because researchers still don’t have a firm grasp on the species’ global populations or why they sometimes gather in groups close to shore. There are also knowledge gaps in understanding how often whale sharks breed and how many offspring they produce.

Study coauthor Mark Meekan of the Australian Institute of Marine Science suggests tagging and satellite tracking some of the larger whale sharks left around Ningaloo to learn more about their population and where they roam.

Whale sharks are listed as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and protected by governments in Australia, Mexico, and China. But they are still illegally hunted for their fins and oil in other parts of the world. Their slow growth rates—whale sharks can live for up to 80 years—make the species particularly vulnerable to overexploitation.

“Understanding the whereabouts of the biggest whale sharks will also help us understand how human activity, such as industrial developments, fisheries, and boat strikes, might impact the animals,” Meekan said.

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13 Comments on "The World’s Largest Fish Are Missing"

  1. onlooker on Sun, 27th Mar 2016 9:35 am 

    I do not see these large animals surviving for too much longer.

  2. Davy on Sun, 27th Mar 2016 9:41 am 

    The oceans are vital sources of protein for our overpopulated world. Unfortunately the worst of ecological failures are being seen in our oceans. This is a ticking time bomb because ocean ecosystems fail so quick and without good understanding. We can observe and change our activities much easier on land than in the ocean. We need to learn to enjoy jellyfish because that species is exploding in growth. I think jellyfish steamed with some wasabi sauce might work.

  3. bug on Sun, 27th Mar 2016 9:55 am 

    Davy, I doubt there are enough calories in jellies to sustain our overpopulated planet. Plus other creatures eat them.

  4. Davy on Sun, 27th Mar 2016 10:00 am 

    yea Bug like shark fins.

  5. Dave Thompson on Sun, 27th Mar 2016 12:58 pm 

    Half of the phytoplankton has gone missing, that is the base of the food chain in the oceans, providing about half of the oxygen that we breath, oh yea lest we forget the terrorists are coming for your children too.

  6. Pennsyguy on Sun, 27th Mar 2016 3:10 pm 

    I like to pretend that all life is a secular miracle and has value for its own sake. If the extinction of H. Sapiens me too) slows the 6th extinction, so be it.

  7. Anonymous on Sun, 27th Mar 2016 3:55 pm 

    “Understanding the whereabouts of the biggest whale sharks will also help us understand how human activity, such as industrial developments, fisheries, and boat strikes, might impact the animals,” Meekan said.

    Huh? Dont we already know all these things are…bad for sharks? (and pretty much everything else as well.) How much more ‘study’ is needed? I see this sort of comment again and again. What is point of studying harmful activities endlessly if the only thing that happens is we keep doing more of the harmful things we say need more research and study?

  8. Apneaman on Sun, 27th Mar 2016 4:43 pm 

    Anonymous, it’s yet one more form of denial. Pretend till the end. Pretend the studies will inform policy makers who will pretend to make necessary changes at pretend conferences like COP21 where everyone pretends it is a historic victory for 1 week then goes back to BAU. The alternative is to admit apes can never change their nature and are playing the final round of last man standing. Apes powerful and inherent optimism bias guarantees pretending to the bitter end. For the researchers it’s how they feed their families and they are not the only societal institution that is simply going through the motions for as long as they can. We still pretend to live in democracies where the pretend politicians make pretend promises and we pretend to believe them.

  9. sidzepp on Sun, 27th Mar 2016 5:02 pm 

    Humanity is playing Russian Roulette with a six shooter and six bullets in the chamber.

  10. JuanP on Sun, 27th Mar 2016 5:47 pm 

    Pennsyguy “I like to pretend that all life is a secular miracle and has value for its own sake” I used to pretend to believe the same thing, but I don’t any longer. I have reached the conclusion that most human beings aren’t worth the air they breathe.

    I still like all other living species, particularly all the bacteria and viruses that attack human beings. I hope someone lets loose a GM virus that wipes humanity out before we cause so much damage to the biosphere that we wipe out most of the other living species in the planet, but I am a realist and in my heart I know it is already too late.

    Anyway, as KC used to say, it is OK to eat fish cause they don’t have any feelings.

  11. makati1 on Sun, 27th Mar 2016 8:06 pm 

    JuanP/Pennsyguy, yes, I think the loss of homo sapiens would be the best thing for the planet’s ecosystem, but “Mother Nature” is already erasing the current ecosystem to start a new one, without the human experiment, which failed.

    ‘Studies” are the appearance of doing something, not actually doing it. Using multi million dollar, 10-20 year studies to prove what we already know. Salve for the conscience.

    We are on the road to extinction. If you do not see it, you are in deep denial or blind. I could list hundreds of current articles to prove my point but I know they would not be read. There will be no humans left by 2100. There may be a few thousand nomad pseudo-humans still surviving in pockets scattered around the world, but not a viable seed for future growth on a planet that will be less and less livable.

    So be it.

  12. dooma on Sun, 27th Mar 2016 9:51 pm 

    “Oh whoops we caught another one of those big-spotty fish things in our 1000km death net. Shit, better throw it over the side and let it sink to the bottom. Ahhh the ocean, greatest ever hider of man’s crimes against nature”

    “now lets go and see if we can find any fish otherwise this floating fish stick factory is going home empty”

  13. dooma on Sun, 27th Mar 2016 9:57 pm 

    “ahh I love the smell of bycatch in the morning”

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