Tech & Science Whale shark expedition on Great Barrier Reef uncovers great mysteries of world's largest fish

01:27  06 december  2019
01:27  06 december  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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The Great Barrier Reef is the world ' s largest coral reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,300 kilometres (1,400 mi)

The world ’ s largest fish , the whale shark , is rarely spotted in the waters off the north Queensland coast. A mysterious migratory creature, whale sharks . Whale shark sightings are very rare on the Great Barrier Reef . ‘I jumped overboard with a camera and the whale shark swam in closer for an

a fish swimming under water: Marine biologist Richard Fitzpatrick describes whale sharks as the © Provided by ABC NEWS Marine biologist Richard Fitzpatrick describes whale sharks as the "ultimate oceanographers". (Supplied: Ron and Valerie Taylor)

The whale shark may be the world's largest fish but, according to marine scientists, locating them on the Great Barrier Reef is like "finding a needle in a haystack".

Unlike Western Australia's Ningaloo Marine Park — a known aggregation site the species frequents — sightings off the east coast are sporadic.

James Cook University's Adam Barnett said the habitat use and movements of whale sharks within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was one of the great mysteries of the deep.

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Unlike other Whale experience WORLD -WIDE the Dwarf Minke' are unique, encounters are regular, long , and entirely initiated by the Minke Whale Expeditions on The Great Barrier Reef . Our whale expeditions are the highlight of the year and only operate during the months of June and July as the

The whale shark is the world ’ s largest fish / shark . They can grow up to 12 metres long and their average size is from around 5.5 metres to 9 While they are meat-loving carnivores, whale sharks do not attack humans. They are filter feeders and eat krill, crab and fish larvae, small schooling fish and

"We have no idea how important the Great Barrier Reef is to them, we know nothing, so this research is just the tip of the iceberg," Dr Barnett said.

That chasm of knowledge is largely due to the size and complexity of the Great Barrier Reef system, which covers almost 350,000 square kilometres and stretches 2,300 kilometres in length.

"For us, it is like looking for a needle in a hay stack," Dr Barnett said.

"You can burn [through] a lot of funding flying planes around trying to find [whale sharks].

"Without an aggregation site we can't do any meaningful research, so the idea is to find an aggregation site and if it's consistent over a few years then we can really start up the research."

East coast's first potential aggregation site?

Dr Barnett has just returned from leading a three-day expedition, the first of its kind on the Great Barrier Reef, where aerial surveys conducted via a spotter plane and drones sighted at least eight, possibly 13, whale sharks in the marine park's far-northern reaches.

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Are you worried sharks on the Great Barrier Reef might bite or attack you while snorkeling or scuba diving? Large seal or penguin colonies offer the perfect hunting grounds for Great White Sharks . Colder water temperatures and large Tuna or fish schools that swim close to shore, also attract Great

2. The Great Barrier Reef sits on the slopes of Continental Shelf. Here the depth of water averages at 35 meters. However, the moment you drop off the In case you are not aware of what this Catlin Seaview Survey Project is all about, here is a quick explanation: It was actually an expedition series

The site at Wreck Bay, off Cape Grenville in Queensland's far north, was determined through extensive historical and oceanographic data mining.

Scientists hoped it would be a whale shark hotspot during the coral spawning and seasonal plankton blooms and the research expedition confirmed their hunch.

"It's only early days but so far they're hanging around the site where we tagged them, which is what we predicted they would [do]," Dr Barnett said.

"While we wouldn't go as far as to call it an aggregation, we were excited to see a number of whale sharks on this expedition."

Divers managed to satellite tag four whale sharks which can be tracked live through the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef portal.

"Now they're tagged, we hope these animals will teach us about potential whale shark hotspots off the east coast of Australia," Dr Barnett said.

"We'll have a much better idea of what those four sharks are doing in about six months' time."

Whale sharks 'the ultimate oceanographic tool'

Richard Fitzpatrick, who is also part of the research team, said monitoring the whale sharks' movements and feeding patterns could teach scientists more about the health of the reef system.

"Upwellings — where you get lots of plankton — are normally driven by cold water, and these kinds of areas may be very important for the future of the Great Barrier Reef if we can identify where they are," Dr Fitzpatrick said.

"We're now using the ultimate oceanographic tool, the whale sharks themselves, to teach us where these spots are."

"This is just the beginning of a detective story for us."

The research team plans to revisit the Wreck Bay site in 12 months, in the hope of satellite tagging more whale sharks.

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