The Oceans Gentle Giant: The Basking Shark

BASKING SHARK

The (not so) lean, mean, plankton eating machine

The Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is the second biggest shark in the world and is completely harmless. They eat tiny little creatures that live at the oceans surface, called plankton. They don’t even use teeth to feed! So I suppose you could think of them as elderly care home residents, searching the seas for soft foods. You know, if that kind of random thought brings you joy in life. Any who, I have a spot of audience participation for you reader (I know exciting right?). So, who would like to pretend to be a feeding basking shark? To participate all you have to do is open your mouth and keep it open like a basking shark (it will be a comical sight for whoever you’re with). The Basking Shark has a metre wide mouth which they keep open all the time they are swimming, so that they can catch tiny morsels of food, floating near the oceans surface. Then, to filter the water to extract food they close their mouths and let the water pass out through their gills, retaining the food to go down their throats and into their bellies. Now confession time, I closed my mouth  after about 10 seconds. I’m not  a basking shark, its tiring! and they have the advantage of being specially adapted to live that way.

Lets move on to basking shark behaviour shall we? Little is known about basking shark natural history, but what we do know is they are usually seen in the summer months, feeding at the waters surface. This is why some people think they were given the name Baking Shark. They have also been known to swim in schools of up to 100 sharks. Basking sharks are known to be ovoviviparous (Which means that the female produces eggs, which hatch internally, rather then externally like with crocs.) The gestation (so length of time these eggs are carried in the females body for) are unknown, it is thought they could gestate for 2-3 years given the animals size. Though, basking sharks are known to live up to 50 years (So, they could really be the elderly care home residents of the sea).

Giant Fish Facts

Fins: Can reach 2 – 3 meters long (wow!)

Tail: Shape of a crescent moon

Liver: Is 20% of the sharks body weight

Weight: around 3,000 – 6,000 kilograms

Length: Around 6.7 -8.8 metres

Habitat: Lives in cold, temperate waters off continental shelves and range shifts to were the food is. Their lives really do revolve around food. Well it has to, a creature that large eating food that tiny!

Classified vulnerable

The Basking shark is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN Red list of endangered species. This is because they are fished for the value put on their oil, fins and liver and indeed their populations took a series decline 20 years ago and have not yet recovered. Though thankfully some countries such as; the UK and New Zealand have chosen to protect them. Which is great news!  We can’t let an amazing creature such as this become lost from our oceans.

Most shark species are under researched and are in need of conservation assistance. This is why in 4 days, I am facing my fear of deep water to raise money and awareness for shark conservation. Check out my Just giving page (as hyperlinked) if you want to check out my story, but no pressure. I hope you enjoyed reading and learning about the basking shark as much as I enjoyed writing this post! Please join me tomorrow evening when I will be blogging about the bramble shark.

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Facing my fear of deep water for charity

5 days to go…

In five days time, I will be taking to the water to conquer my fear of water and raise money for charity. I will be doing this over the space of two weeks, as I don’t think I can make that progression over night and am hoping to gain lots of pledges (no matter how big or small) to spare me on.

I have wanted to conquer this fear for a while and took lessons to learn to swim in shallow waters, but still could not get past the centre line of my local baths. So, one sleepless night (not brought on by thinking of water may I add) That I could use charity as an excuse to make it past that line. I had this notion a few months ago and brushed it off as being a little crazy, but the idea didn’t leave me and so I thought, well why not?

My chosen charity was easy for me as an aspiring conservationist and this event being water based; I decided on The Shark Trust. Now before I lose half the readership please do here me out on this. I know many people don’t like sharks and that was kind of the point. I thought this was the perfect excuse to not only conquer my fear but to challenge peoples misconceptions about shark species. There are many species of shark in the world and most are harmless to humans and are in fact integral to our eco-systems. Also, if someone can conquer their fear for charity, and chose the shark as a conservation species, then they can’t be that evil and perhaps you could own important members in our oceans; VIP’s of the oceans if you will?

So, far I have raised £67.00 in pledges, with more pledges to come I am told. I am also hoping the lovely people I volunteer with at various places have taken pen to paper for me. If reading of my crazy (sorry courageous) plan has inspired you to take on your own challenge then that is great and please don’t refrain from telling me about it. If you would like to sponsor me and learn more about my swim please visit my Just giving page  (by clicking on Just Giving, which is highlighted in blue).

I’ll be posting more (probably sure to be humorous) updates of how I’m getting on. As well as a few facts about shark species and conservation, during the course of my Facing my Fear Swim. So I hope you will stay tuned for those. Next post will be about the Basking Shark.

 

The Epaulette shark: A walking marvel

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The worlds only walking shark

The Epaulette (Hemiscyllium ocellatum) is an Australian species, and we all know that Australian species can be a little odd in their adaptations; the duck-billed platypus and kangaroo for example. Which, makes it the perfect place to find the worlds only walking shark. The epaulette lives out its life in the reefs and coastal waters around the Australian coast (though you won’t be able to find it in the south coasts). Feeding on a delicious diet of crabs and worms

Epaulette Etiquette

Life in the intertidal zone is hard, you’re constantly being exposed to drastic changes in temperature, salinity and water level. There is no rest bite, to get through this grind you need to be specially adapted to deal with those changes and your instinct for survival needs to be high. Creatures making their home in intertidal zones really do reserve the upmost respect. But, back to the epaulette shark… In their coastal homes they to are subject to the ebb and tide of the sea. There are moments in the day where they too are exposed and literally become a fish out of water. These are the moments when the voraciousness of the epaulette shark really comes to life.

When the tide is in, the epaulette has to share its patch with bigger sharks, who get their pick of food on the reef. They would probably eat an epaulette if they had half a chance. But when the tide is out, they become rulers of the reef. The epaulette shark has special adaptation which allow it to conquer the reef when the tide is out. Bigger sharks don’t have these adaptations and are forced to follow the water when it goes.

The super shark

Adaptation one: Epaulette sharks can survive without oxygen for 60 times longer than a human! By slowing down its breathing and heart rate, as well as powering down its brain.

Adaptation two: The epaulette can crawl between rock pools like a toddler! This allows the shark to get back to life giving, patches of sea water and to rock hop on the search for prey.

So, now we all know how amazing the epaulette shark truly is. It is a true intertidal survivor, thanks to some quirky adaptations. I hope reader, if you clicked on this link expecting a nightmare world where jaws like sharks could walk on land and chase you has been cleared up. I hope you have read this and discovered a truly remarkable creature. Thank you for reading my post.

 

The Jaws Effect

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This magnificent specimen pictured above is the Great White Shark and todays blog post is centred around, what I am terming; The Jaws Effect.

Once, Sharks where revered as Gods for their shows of strength and power. Now, they are feared. A fear that has grown strong on the back of one very famous film in the west; Jaws. This film paints a picture of a mindless, psycho killer which is simply not true. Sharks are not mindless or psychotic, and indeed you are far more likely to be killed by your own bath than by a shark! The effect this film has had on human psyche has lead to a pathological fear of a creature most people will probably never come across. It has also lead to a dark underbelly of human nature; trophy hunting. I know that it would be foolish to blame  one film and that there will be other contributing factors. I am also aware there are tragically other animals who are hunted as trophies. Still, there is no getting away from the fact that this film has had an affect on peoples opinions of sharks.

Now, as I have said before I love sharks; their adaptations, their varying physiology and behaviours. They are very special and so important to keeping our ecosystems healthy. They have been swimming in our oceans for millions of years, the waters and sharks have grown together. I really cannot bear the thought that we could potentially be the species to wipe these magnificent animals from the oceans forever. This is the reason I have been posting so avidly about sharks and the reason I am Swimming for sharks. I want to raise awareness for their conservation. I want to help lessen the Jaws Effect. I want to spread the RESPECT SHARKS DON’T FEAR them message and you dear reader, I hope will spread that message to. I hope you are enjoying my posts and are finding a way to appreciate sharks too.

The Hammerhead with a different purpose

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The electro receptacle

We can’t talk about the Hammerhead shark without first addressing the purpose of its namesake. The answer to this strange, hammer shaped head, is that it makes the hammerhead more sensitive to electrical signals given off by their favourite prey; sting rays. Others say that the shape of the head allows the eyes to be positioned in a way which improves their eyesight.

In fact there are 10 different species of hammerhead, all apart of the family Sphyrnidae. Only four of the hammerhead species are commonly known; the great hammerhead, the smooth hammerhead, scalloped bonnethead hammerhead (love it!) and the scalloped hammerhead. Both the scalloped hammerhead and the great hammerhead are listed as endangered by the IUCN redlist and the other two hammerhead species I have listed are classified as vulnerable. This is due to overfishing, illegal trade and trophy hunting.

The hammerhead shark does not only use its electro detector head to find its favourite rays to chomp on. It also uses them to search for bony fish, crustaceans, octopus and squid hiding from them under the sandy floor. They search for their meals on reefs and In Brackish waters, along continental shelves and coastal lines.

How would you like to enrol in a 500 strong hammerhead school?

Hammerheads give birth to live young (so are viviparous) once a year. They give birth to 20 -50 pups, who are then left to fend for each other until they are old enough to take care of themselves. Once they are old enough to leave behind their brothers and sisters the hammerhead then go and join schools. Like humans they attend school during the day and then go off and have time to themselves at night. Unlike with humans, hammerheads  are thought to do this as protection from predators. Hammerhead sharks are not aggressive towards humans, but due to their power and size they are considered dangerous. Though they haven’t been known to attack a human unprovoked. So just respect their space and everyone will be happy.

Again reader, I thank you very much for reading my post and I hope you enjoyed learning about the hammerhead family with me. Next time I will be blogging about the jaws effect.

There is nothing bitter about the lemon shark

NEGAPRION BREVIROSTRIS

Dubbed a Lemon

The Lemon shark is not named thus because of a temperament which is slightly on the bitter side or because they leave a bitter taste in the mouth. They are named as such for the yellow – brown pigmentation to their skin, which allows them to blend with their sandy seafloor habitat. Indeed reader, we will explore the true temperament of the lemon shark and the taste for a shark that probably does wish it would leave a bitter taste in a humans mouth.

Fruits of the Mangrove

If you trek through a mangrove swamp in the spring/ summer months you may come across 4-17 newly born  lemon shark pups. You will find them sheltered in the protection of the Mangrove trees roots, were large predators cannot reach. Each learning the art of being a shark with their fellow brothers and sisters, until they are big enough and tough enough to protect themselves out in the big, wide ocean. A few months ago I am pretty sure I saw a documentary where scientists were researching whether these young pups had personalities. It turns out they did and that the lemon pups hung around in friendship groups. In these mangrove environments the pups are specially adapted to soak up as much oxygen in their environment as they can. As there is not much oxygen content in the water. It takes six years for lemon sharks to mature and they are thought to live up to twenty seven years. As they get older their range advances from 6-8 kilometres to 300 kilometres!

These nursery grounds are under threat. I’ll let you have three guesses on the cause… Humans! Humans are degrading the habitat for sharks and other species by ripping up the mangroves and replacing them with hotel complexes for holiday makers.

92 meters below

Lemon sharks live 92 meters below on continental shelves of the Eastern Pacific and Western and North Eastern Atlantic. Adults are usually found swimming around coral keys, docks, saline creeks, bays, river mouths and fringes of mangroves. In groups of either one individual shark or up to twenty (well everyone needs time alone sometimes). The lemon sharks are very fussy (sorry selective) in the way that they eat. They know what they like and what tastes good and they won’t settle for less.

Another threat to lemon shark populations is the fact that they are eaten and that their fins are highly prized for the Shark fin soup trade. So now you see why they would wish to leave a bitter taste in a humans mouth?

and the next species is…

I’m excited to announce that tomorrows shark species will be… Drum roll please… The Hammerhead shark! Which I am very excited to research about for this blog, as I don’t have much prior knowledge about the Hammerhead.

I am Swimming for Sharks to raise money and awareness for their conservation so please do visit my Just giving page; justgiving.com/fundraising/Kerry-Payton1

 

Ambush of the Wobblegong

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Watch out for the Tassel Attack

The Tasselled wobble gong Has one of the most fantastic species names I’ve come across and its a name that just keeps on giving with this intriguing shark. It’s Latin name Eurcrossorhinus dasypogon roughly translates as well fringed nose with shaggy beard. Talk about saying it like it is! That is certainly a well suited name for this odd species of shark. I mean looking at the picture above, its not what most people would conjure into their heads when they hear the word shark. So, the big question. Why does the Tasselled Wobble gong look so odd?

Well the answer is, that the Tasselled wobble gong makes its version of bread and butter by ambushing its unsuspecting prey. Now, to be successful it makes sense that the shark would adopt the camouflage tactic. Which it did, it evolved over time to look like the coral reef habitat it calls home. In fact, Its disguise is so good the tasselled wobble gong has become a supreme in the ambush arena. But this species of wobble gong doesn’t just rely on chance to catch their tea. Oh no! They have one or two tricks hidden in their gills to keep them from getting hungry…

Trick (or adaptation) number one: They are able to super focus their eyes on a particular spot, to make sure they strike right every time.

Trick number two:  The tail lure. They swish their tale as a lure for small unsuspecting fish then Wham! They are sucked into the sneaky wobble gongs mouth before the fish can say “What happened there? or “No! I want to live” (or whatever you can imagine the little fish saying to a bigger, sneaky fish attempting to suck him into its mouth like a hoover).

Any who, I digressed there a little… I perhaps should explain the hoover analogy? The shark causes a change in water pressure when it opens its mouth, so once the poor little fish is lured close to the mouth all the wobble gong has to do is open it and the water pressure change takes care of the rest. Sucking the fish down into its gaping crevice. There, that will do nicely on the Tassels attack. I’ll leave you with a few more comments on the Tasselled wobble gongs little known natural history and then we are done here.

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The Wobble Range

The wobbles range is The Eastern Indian ocean and the Western – Central Pacific ocean; around Indonesia, Papua New guinea and western Australia. They are found at depths of 40 metres and are bottom dwelling sharks, that are mainly associated with coral reefs (which makes sense considering the way they look. They would soon be picked off by bigger fish themselves if they flaunted around the mid ocean looking like that.) Tasselled wobble gongs are a nocturnal creature and thought to be ovoviviparious. Thought not a lot is known about their breeding and courting.

Thank you so much for reading this post. Tomorrow I will be blogging about the lemon shark. So I hope dear reader you will return for that. I myself absolutely love sharks and am doing a fundraising/awareness event for them. So, please do follow my just giving link to learn more about that: justgiving.com/fundraising/Kerry-Payton1

Swimming for Sharks: I will be conquering my fear of deep water to help combat shark stigma

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Tasselled wobble gong (Eucrossorhinus dasypogon)

Some people might fear water because of what lurks beneath; that is not my reason. I fear the water for its sheer power and ferocity, its ability to drown and sweep people out to sea. As for the animals lurking below; I am fascinated by them. They are the reason I would love to get over this fear of deep water, so that one day I could perhaps take a closer look.

I have noticed a parallel between the ocean and sharks; both have power that commands respect, a power that can easily be misdirected into fear. So, I will be learning to control and conquer this fear of deep water to promote awareness for shark conservation. To show that they aren’t mindless killers and that if a person like me can use them as a motivator to a conquer a real fear, then surely there is something to love and admire about sharks.

I am planning from the 27th of March to the 10th of April, to spend two weeks attempting to make it to the end of the pool at least, if not learn to be comfortable in deep water. Which if you knew me well you would realise that this is a very big deal for me and that I usually freeze when I get to the centre line of the pool. So you may wonder, if I’m that afraid why am I being so crazy as to attempt this? Well the answer is this. I love sharks, they are important to our ecosystems and their adaptations are amazing! I want to show people that fears can be overcome and most importantly I want to spread a respect not fear message. I want to get across the message that we should respect sharks not fear them and I am hoping that you reader, will spread that message too.

Up until the event and during I will be posting shark awareness posts; life history, interesting facts, conservation issues and my swimming for sharks progression. Starting with a blog post about the Tasselled wobble gong tomorrow (pictured above) which is one of my favourite shark species. I mean, Tasselled wobble gong! What a fantastic name!

Flocking for photographs

Today I was volunteering at Martin mere nature reserve which I always enjoy. Who wouldn’t? It’s a great place to be. Just look at all these lovely birds! I have to confess, I don’t know what species all these birds are above. I’m not that great with bird identification but I am learning! and I have to tell you it’s really not a chore. I’ve commented on the photographs with the names of the species I know. Enjoy the pictures. I hope I’ve inspired you to visit your local nature reserve.

Pictures taken by Kerry Payton at Martin Mere nature reserve on the 24/01/2017

The shock of yellow

Yesterday, I saw a Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinera) hopping around in the mud. Its vivid lemony yellow plumage was certainly a welcome and striking sight on the barren, dreary winter scape. It immediately made me want to learn the name of the bird and as much about its natural history as I could. That has been happening a lot to me recently when I see birds. Perhaps, it is just because I’m a wildlife nerd…

Does anyone else get that feeling when they see an animal in the wild or is it just me? Also, if you have a favourite native bird in your home country. Don’t be shy. Comment! It would be great to hear from you.

 

grey-wagtail

Picture found, through google images. Original site; reddishvale.moonfruit.com. I was too absorbed watching the bird to take a picture. When I went to get my phone it had flown away. Proof I suppose that moments are meant to be enjoyed not photographed… Unless you enjoy photography. In which case, you keep snapping away there!

 

 

A Grey Wagtails natural history (for those who are interested)

The name grey wagtail may appear deceptive, now we have seen a picture of the bird… The distinctive pop of colour, you would rationally think would earn the bird the name yellow wagtail. Well, there is already a wagtail that has earned the name yellow wagtail. With a plumage that is fully donned with the lemon yellow plumage, it means that they grey wagtail was destined to be named after its other predominant colour instead; grey. The birds live on a diet of insects, so are insectivores. They can be seen chasing their insect pray along bodies of water as they often like to live near rivers and streams in upland areas. They also like to live in lowland areas and can be found all over in Great Britain. There range also expands to Europe. Grey wagtails sing both in flight and when perched. Their call is very high pitched and varies from a light twittering to whistling sounds. They breed in April-July and nest in grassy cups hidden in cavities near water. They lay 4-6 eggs and young leave the nest from day 12 -13.