Alternate Title

Observations of a Feeding Aggregation of Whale Sharks, Rhincodon typus, in the North Central Gulf of Mexico

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On 26 June 2006 an aggregation of 16 whale sharks was observed for a period of 4 hr in the north central Gulf of Mexico (GOM). The sharks remained within an area about 1.0 km2 in size and continuously ram filter fed at the surface. Visual analysis of a plankton sample collected from the study site revealed the presence of copious amounts of fish eggs in mid-embryonic development and a minor amount of other zooplankton. A second plankton sample (control) collected about 3.5 km from the study site in an area where no whale sharks were present contained few eggs, however other zooplankton were similar to the study site sample in species composition and abundance. Two egg morphs were identified, and samples of one of the morphs, which represented 98% of the eggs at the study site, were verified by genetic analysis as little tunny, Euthynnus alleteratus. The observed feeding behavior and the abundance of fish eggs at the study site indicated the whale sharks were feeding on recently spawned little tunny eggs. This represents the first confirmed observation of a feeding aggregation of whale sharks in the GOM.

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