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Longboat Key Monday, Jun. 21, 2010 7 years ago

Whale sharks spotted near Sarasota

by: Robin Hartill Managing Editor

Mote Marine Laboratory scientists tagged three whale sharks from a group of 10 whale sharks that gathered Friday, June 18, about 23 miles offshore and southwest of Sarasota.

Dr. Robert Hueter, director of Mote’s Center for Shark Research, and his team tagged two males and one female, each more than 20 feet long.

“People who have lived here 30 years have never seen anything like this,” Hueter said in a prepared statement. “Usually whale sharks come to our waters transiently in ones and twos. This time we had 10, and we stayed with them for four hours.”

The shark sighting brings concern that large fish, including whale sharks, could be changing their raining patterns because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. But the sharks showed no signs of distress or unusual behavior.

“It’s unusual for so many whale sharks to appear near Sarasota but not necessarily bad for their survival,” Hueter said. “It’s not what we expect to see in their life cycle, but they were finding food and appeared to be healthy. We don’t know if the oil spill brought us this large group, and we don’t know how the spill will affect whale sharks in the future. But these are adaptable creatures and highly migratory. If the spill seriously threatens their range elsewhere, this area may provide a refuge.”

One of the sharks, Sara, was previously tagged by Mote scientists May 28. On Friday, Sara was fitted with another type of tag that will store location data for 180 days before it pops up, floats to the surface and sends data to researchers via satellite. Because Sara appears to be pregnant, her tagging could provide valuable information about where she gives birth.

Mote has been tagging sharks since 2003 to help learn about their traveling patterns.

Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].

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