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After decades of searching, scientists have finally discovered where basking sharks—the world’s second largest fish— go in the wintertime.
According to experts, these gigantic creatures, which grow up to 35 feet long, make vast migrations to deep, warm-water hideouts.
They swim all the way from New England to the Bahamas and across the equator to South America. Researchers have long thought that basking sharks spent all of their time in cooler waters.
“This is equivalent to finding polar bears in Kansas,” Discovery News quoted marine biologist Greg Skomal as saying. “This was a mind-blowing discovery for us.”
Like most large fish, basking sharks are difficult to keep track of because they rarely come to the surface. To learn more, Skomal and his team attached complicated tracking devices and satellite technology to 25 basking sharks off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Once each tag was attached to a shark, it collected data on depth, temperature and light levels for a preprogrammed amount of time — from 12 days to more than a year. When its time was up, the device popped off the animal and sent its data back to the researchers.
Skomal and colleagues were surprised when they first received a signal from the tagged sharks coming from the waters of the Southern Hemisphere. Other locations included the Sargasso Sea, the Puerto Rico Trench, and the Guyana coast.
It’s still not clear why some basking sharks travel such great distances. Skomal suspects that tropical waters aid with reproduction, by offering a safer nursery habitat, a better food supply, or warmer conditions for pregnant sharks and their newborns.
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