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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Basking Sharks' Hiding Places Found

Basking Sharks' Hiding Places Found
May 7, 2009 Emily Sohn, Discovery News

For ages, scientists have wondered where basking sharks go in the wintertime. Now, they have an answer -- and it's full of surprises.

In the western Atlantic, the world's second largest fish swims all the way from New England to the Bahamas and across the equator to South America, a new study finds. Scientists have long thought that basking sharks spent all of their time in cooler waters.

"This is equivalent to finding polar bears in Kansas," said lead researcher Greg Skomal, a marine biologist with Massachusetts Marine Fisheries in Martha's Vineyard. "This was a mind-blowing discovery for us."

"We've opened up a whole new world of implications into the life history and ecology of these fish and how they live," Skomal said. "To be able to do that in the 21st century for an animal that has been studied for eons is what fascinates me."

The new findings may help people better protect basking sharks, said Robert Kenney, a biological oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island in Narragansett. The species is currently listed as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

"If all of a sudden, you are finding that a population is spending part of its life somewhere that you didn't consider," Kenney said, "Then you have to expand what you think about when you are trying to manage them."

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