Gone Fishin' : Basking shark migration traced
Greg Skomal, a Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) biologist and Martha's Vineyard resident, does some very interesting work. Recently, he led a study that shed new light on the migratory routes of basking sharks.
Greg is the state's resident shark expert. Every July some sun-baked fisherman swears he saw a great white, and that sets off a round of "just when you thought it was safe to go in the water" news reports. In turn, Greg takes on his most visible public responsibility, which is to reassure summer visitors that it is safe to swim in state waters.
Greg dutifully appears on CNN or FOX and tells people that there are sharks swimming in the ocean but that sharks prefer to snack on blubbery seals, not blubbery humans (research has shown it is the difference between a diet rich in fish and one heavy on ice cream cones).
But most of the time, Greg and his fellow biologists work to understand more about a species that presents a number of questions and is threatened by overfishing in many areas of the world. Recently, their work unlocked one of the mysteries associated with basking sharks, the world's second largest fish.
Greg is the lead author of a study, "Transequatorial migrations by basking sharks in the western Atlantic ocean," published in the June 23 issue of Current Biology. It is not exactly People Magazine material, but it is interesting.
The study identifies the shark's previously unknown winter habitat. It is a discovery that has implications for the species' conservation, according to state environmental officials.
"The Commonwealth is proud to employ high-caliber staff, such as biologist Greg Skomal, who work on behalf of Massachusetts citizens helping us to understand and act as good stewards of the environment," Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles said in a press release.
State officials are understandably proud and grateful to have something positive to announce in connection with the work of state employees. I am certain the head of the MBTA wishes he could have found a way to get in on the action.
The basking shark grows in excess of 20 feet up to a maximum length of 32 feet. It has a huge mouth and tiny teeth. The shark uses comb-like gillrakers to filter small shrimp-like creatures from the huge volume of water it takes in when it opens its mouth.