Real-time information about the movement of basking sharks swimming off the coast of Scotland is now available online, thanks to a partnership between Scottish Natural Heritage and the University of Exeter.
The tracking data, summarized on this website, is being collected by researchers hoping for a better understanding of shark movement, behavior and habitat use. The scientists are focusing specifically on seas around the isles off the Scottish west coast.
Basking sharks are a welcome sight, as they are the second largest fish in the world, behind only whale sharks. They are easy-going, gentle sharks that spend their days filter feeding, which is why their mouths are often wide open.
As they feed, bristle-like gill rakers catch plankton while water filters through the mouth and over the gills. Basking sharks are usually grayish-brown in color and often seem to have a mottled appearance. Their teeth are very small, but there are a lot of them — about 100 per row.
The sharks head for the coast of Scotland every summer where they feed and perhaps engage in courtship behavior. (That remains a mystery.) They also have been seen breaching, or leaping out of the water. Something important is clearly going on among the sharks at the site, and researchers would like to know more.
Several of the sharks have been outfitted with satellite transmitters, which have been relaying the data. Here are some of the questions that the researchers hope to answer:
1. How do basking sharks use the area?
2. How long do basking sharks stay there?
3. Are there any areas that are used to a greater extent than others?
4. To what extent is the area essential to key life cycle stages for basking sharks?
If you happen to be reading this blog post from Scotland, the researchers ask that you please take time to report any basking shark sightings to the Marine Conservation Society. Your info is important to help increase scientific understanding of these large enigmatic and important sharks.
(Image: Greg Skomal, NOAA Fisheries Service)