Scientists To Study Recent Phenomenon Of Whale Shark Sightings In Northeast

Photo of a whale shark, courtesy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

WOODS HOLE – A student project with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and a team of scientists and divers are preparing to conduct fieldwork later this summer to understand why whale sharks have recently been spotted in regional waters.

Whale sharks typically inhabit warm, tropical waters, but numerous reports have them swimming north, including sightings in the Northeast Canyons.

These sightings represent the northernmost sightings ever recorded of the large, elusive filter-feeders.

Scientists involved with the study say that recent data places the sharks in the area of the Gulf Stream, likely due to the current’s warm waters and ample resources.

But while project researchers aren’t worried by the sightings, curiosity has arisen regarding the shift in behavior, prompting a closer look during the summer.

“There have been sightings of them in this area before, but we don’t have a clear understanding of their movement patterns,” said Jaida Elcock, WHOI-MIT Joint Program Student. “We want to know why they’re here, what food sources they’re taking advantage of, and why they’re choosing to remain so far from shore.”

A whale shark photographed in the Northeast Canyons marine monument, courtesy of WHOI

The scientists will use manually attached biologger tags and drones to track the shark’s depths and locations and examine their body conditions as they track their movements, gradually increasing their understanding of their feeding patterns and choice of feeding areas.

“The ultimate goal is to get a seasonal comparison of the whale sharks in the New England region,” said Elcock. “If we can get clear imagery, we’ll be able to track specific individuals overtime and can start cataloguing how the movements of this amazing species change in our area over time.”

About Matthew Tomlinson

Matt Tomlinson is a Cape Cod native studying to be a documentarian. He has been with the NewsCenter since 2021.
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