July 17 – Tastes Like Tofu

Today’s factismal: The whale shark can have as many as 300 pups (baby sharks) at the same time.

If you think that Kate has it bad with her royal baby, imagine what a female whale shark must feel like. Once the female mates, she produces baby sharks (known as pups) at a steady pace by fertilizing the eggs one by one and allowing them to hatch inside her body before giving birth in a process known as ovoviviparity (“egg live birth”). How long does the process last? Nobody knows for sure. What we do know is that a female whale shark caught off of Taiwan in 1995 had 304 pups inside, at stages ranging from just-fertilized to “ready to pop out”.

A whale shark opens wide for dinner (Image courtesy ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library)

A whale shark opens wide for dinner
(Image courtesy ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library)

The length of time that a whale shark stays pregnant is just one of the many mysteries surrounding these fish. Though the whale shark is found in tropical waters around the world, very little is known about the species. But what is known is amazing. At 32 ft long and 20,000 lbs heavy the whale shark is the largest living fish (though it is only half the size of the aptly-named and thankfully extinct megalodon). They can dive to 4,200 ft in search of food, which is mainly plankton and small fish. And they will migrate thousands of miles in search of their food which they eat at a rate of six pounds an hour. Though these sharks have more than 300 rows of vestigial teeth, they feed using twenty “filter pads” that parallel the gills. The plankton gets caught in the filter pads and then makes its way to the throat by a process that nobody understands yet.

Gill damage allows us to see the filter pads (Image courtesy ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library)

Gill damage allows us to see the filter pads
(Image courtesy ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library)

And it is that “yet” that scientists are trying to get rid of. We want to learn more about the whale shark. Not just because it is a valuable food fish (referred to as the “tofu shark” in Taiwan because of the way they taste), but because they are amazing animals. If you’ve seen a whale shark or just want to learn more about them, head on over to the EcoOcean Whale Shark Photo ID Library:
http://www.whaleshark.org/whoAreWe.jsp?langCode=en

One thought on “July 17 – Tastes Like Tofu

  1. August 6 – Jumping the shark – Little facts about science

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