Almost three years after a female basking shark was tagged in Malin Head, the northernmost point of Ireland, with a satellite transmitter, she was accidentally photographed in Nauset Beach, Massachusetts.
In light of this, this may not seem like a remarkable event, but the number of unlikely occurrences, perfectly matched to allow for the identification of this shark, would raise even the most passionate skeptical question as to whether it is an intervention of fate acted.
And even happier is the fact that this overlook provides an insight into the movement of one of the ocean's most bizarre fish, which has a huge, striped structure in its mouth where you could expect smooth meat. [1
A Three-Year History
The series of happy events began in August 2014, when the shark was tagged with a satellite transmitter directly in front of Malin Head. a hotspot for giant sharks in the Northeast Atlantic. After a few months, the device stopped the data transmission.
"That's not unusual," said Jonathan Houghton, one of the study's leading researchers at Queen's University in Belfast. "If you throw electronics into the sea, there will be some interference after a while."
But then, in June 2017, the shark was photographed out of the blue by an underwater photographer photographer more than 4,600 kilometers away, off the east coast of North America.
The photo made its rounds in Europe, and when it reached the research teams, they noticed something astonishing: The shark's no-longer-known tracking device contained a small, unmistakable device the researchers had come up with as a buoyancy aid. At the time, this shark was the only one carrying the modified device. They realized that this was the same shark they had marked almost three years ago.
This was the second time it has been observed that this species moves across the Atlantic, the first time in 2008.
"Until that moment, we could no longer follow the movement of a shark, such as Nine Months or a year, to understand his movements on a time scale of three years on another side of the Atlantic, our thinking has changed fundamentally, "Houghton said.
And without luck it would not have been possible. "Scientists love to say that everything we do is based on absolutely brilliant prejudices, but sometimes we're just lucky," he admitted.
Shark of interest
The shark has long been a species of interest. The audience has shown interest in its unusual (to say the least) appearance. Scientists are more interested in the shrinking Pacific population.
"In the mid-20th century, there were many conflicts between basking sharks and commercial fishing," said Paul Mensink, who conducted research at Western.
With a length of up to 12 meters, it is the second largest fish and has the habit of colliding with boats and getting caught in fishing tackle. This led to a deliberate attempt to eradicate the sharks in the Pacific. "There is a dark history on the Pacific coast," said Mensink.
In the Atlantic, however, the species is healthier. Here, the sharks have two populations, one in the Northeast Atlantic near Ireland and Scotland, the other in the North American region of the ocean.
The shark's journey from the Northeast Atlantic into North American waters is a mixture of these two populations. "We knew that transatlantic movements could happen, but that was not very common," Houghton said. However, what they did not know before this study was whether sharks venturing across the Atlantic tended to return to their native populations. "That this animal seemed to have become part of the North American population three years later is a very new insight," said Houghton. "There is no kind of bungee cord effect that requires them to return to the other side."
Thinking about it, Mensink said, "in a sense, the oceans are getting a bit smaller."
What's in his mouth?
It's likely that not only Houghton and Mensink have shot the photo twice. Most people who stumbled upon it were probably tempted to stare at her. For the untrained eye, the inside of the mouth of the giant shark seems to contain a thorax.
That's not natural, as there sharks are bone-free cartilaginous fish, Houghton explained. In fact, it is tough, structured cartilage that is only visible when the shark's mouth is open.
The structure may not be a thorax, but serves some of the same purposes. "When the shark opens its mouth, it's like opening the jacket on a windy day, it blooms and the cartilage gives it some structure to keep its skin from flapping around," said Houghton.
It also serves the less practical purpose of making the basking shark one of the most bizarre fish in the ocean.