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Dead Whale Shark Washes Up On Sanibel Island

A dead whale shark washed ashore this past weekend in Sanibel Island.
Courtesy Rebecca Mensch at Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
A dead whale shark washed ashore this past weekend in Sanibel Island.

A dead whale shark washed ashore this past weekend in Sanibel Island. scientists say it is not one of the two whale sharks they tagged in June.

Rebecca Mensch at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum found the whale shark and identified it as a male. She then called Robert Hueter, senior scientist and director of Mote’s Center for Shark Research, and he instructed her to measure the shark and search for a tag.

Hueter said that the whale shark might have been laying there on the water the night before. From what he has seen, it did not look like the shark had any signs of trauma from being hit by a boat.

“After it was examined by biologists from the state and some other folks on the scene, the shark was buried,” Hueter said. “It’s my understanding that it was buried there on the beach.”

Biologists from the collected samples from the whale shark.

“I’m hoping that they look for signs of red tide toxicity,” Hueter said. “I think there’s a possibility this animal may have been affected by red tide.”

Hueter found it unusual for a whale shark to wash up on the shallow waters, because the species swims in much deeper waters.

“This is the first case that I’m aware of a whale shark actually floating in on the beach dead,” Hueter said. “[It’s] certainly the first case that I’ve seen in 30 years here at Mote Marine Labs.”

Hueter said that it is normal for whale sharks to be around this part of the world, but they are a rare species overall.

“It’s a sad case of an animal dying and washing in, hopefully the state biologists are able to learn a lot from this particular animal,” Hueter said.

Hueter looks forward to collecting data from the male and female sharks – “Colt” and “Minnie” – in the near future.

“We hope that our two are still out there swimming around happy and we will see in six months’ time when their satellite tags pop up and we get all their data from where they’ve been and their travels around the world.”

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Nada Blassy is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for summer 2018.