Once again, it’s Shark Week on Discovery Channel. As a marine scientist I can’t condone the unholy union of fact and fiction which has seemed to characterize this year’s programming (see “Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine” and “Megalodon: The Shark That Lives”), but I can’t deny that sharks are pretty awesome.
Despite evidence that a shark attack is much less likely to be the cause of your demise than, say, mosquitos, “ferocious” shark species like Great Whites and Bull Sharks give us a dim view on sharks in general. And there’s no denying that their eerily expressionless, toothy faces do little to inspire warm and cuddly feelings. One exception, though, is the whale shark (Rhincodon typus for you taxonomy nerds out there) which is known for its cavernous mouth and filter-feeding habits. Although the whale shark is the world’s largest extant (i.e, not extinct) shark species (take that, imaginary Megalodon), it spends its days gulping down microscopic plants and animals with a vaguely pleased, goofy expression that I find kind of adorable.
What’s not to love? And to top it all off, this week I bring you the results of a recent whale shark study presented in a heavily pictoral format (pictures! science! speech bubbles!). The journal article itself is open access, meaning anyone can go peruse it themselves fo’ free: find it here at PLOS ONE.