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Longboat Key Tuesday, Jun. 1, 2010 7 years ago

Mote tags whale sharks off of Sarasota

by: Robin Hartill Managing Editor

A rare visit to the waters off of Sarasota by two whale sharks provided Mote Marine Laboratory the chance to outfit the sharks with satellite tags.

Capt. Brian Marcey, of BreakWater Charters spotted the sharks Friday morning about 10 miles offshore, and when he realized they were whale sharks, he called Mote.

Dr. Robert Hueter, director of Mote’s Center for Shark Research, put together a team to tag and record the visit.

“It’s not really unusual to have whale sharks in the Gulf of Mexico,” Hueter said in a prepared statement. “But it is unusual to be able to tag them here off the Florida coast.”

Since 2003, Hueter has been studying whale sharks off Isla Holbox in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where they gather annually in the hundreds to feed on plankton. Now, with these two whale sharks tagged, Hueter can study the movement patterns of sharks in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

According to Hueter, studying shark patterns will be especially important because of the recent oil spill.

“Whale sharks are essentially filter feeders that eat plankton,” Hueter said in the statement. “Often, that means they will feed at the surface where the plankton is floating. Unfortunately, right now, oil also happens to be floating on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Will the sharks stay away from the spill? We just don’t know. And because they’re deep divers, they could also encounter underwater plumes of oil and oil dispersants.”

Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].

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