Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Blair and the Whale Shark

The Barrier Island Center had several shark-related programs this month - indeed, their July events calendar was titled Shark Week, Every Week. I know absolutely nothing about sharks, but as blogger Florida Cracker would say, Sara N. Dippity came along in the form of an email from Dawn Witherington. In her first message, Dawn sent these beautiful photos, with just a brief note saying the pix were of Blair's encounter with a 30 ft female whale shark while doing some off-shore research work in the Gulf. When I expressed concern that someone we know and like a lot had been close enough to a shark to get these photos, she sent this explanation: Whale sharks are so big they are like buildings floating along, sheltering entire communities of other fish. Blair was no threat to the whale shark, and people swim with them all the time. They are plankton eaters with no interest (food-wise) in much else. (Be sure to click on this first photo to enlarge it!)

When I asked permission to use the photos here, Dawn added this information. The sighting was about 20 NM north of the Dry Tortugas. Blair submitted the information to a non-profit group called ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library (see link below). The group utilizes a computer program that can identify whale sharks by the spot pattern above the pectoral fin. His sighting has been added to the library as a new, previously unidentified shark.

For you new readers, Blair and Dawn Witherington are the authors of Florida's Living Beaches: A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber, a comprehensive field guide written by two people who know and love Florida’s beaches. Blair is a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Dawn is a graphic artist and scientific illustrator - you can see her work when you visit the Barrier Island Center. As always, our thanks to both of them for sharing their formidable talents and expertise.
Reference Links:
Whaleshark Organization Library (Blair's shark is GC001)
Pure Florida (Florida Cracker's blog)


Cactus Jack Splash said...

Oh my, I have always found sharks fascinating...but I wouldn't want to be in the water close to one.
Lovely photos, beautiful shark

Caroline said...

Holy Buckets, Marge!
Ain't nothing like this in the Black Hills. What a neat experience to swim with a creature like that.

misti said...

Whale sharks are on the life list of things to see. Some day! Beautiful totally jealous!