Yesterday's post on news feeds ended up sending me on a long trawl through the internet, and I spent an inordinate amount of time as always reading about the natural world. I feel that learning about the animals and plants we share our world with is always a worthwhile endeavor. This planet we're on is the only one we've got, after all! (Although perhaps not for long; President Obama is calling for a manned mission to Mars in the next 20 years.) Whether you wish to learn how you can help conserve our natural resources, or seek a spiritual connection with the creatures and ecosystems of Earth; learning more about them is an excellent place to start.
I have a particular fondness for what I call "specialty creatures." Whenever I see a picture of "the smallest X" or the "only X that can live in Y place" I am immediately captivated. What appeals to me is that animals that have adapted to fill such specialty niches are a combination of ferocious success and terrifying fragility.
Whale Sharks are the largest living fish species, and are so called because they are filter feeders like mammal whales. Having no baleen, they instead filter water out through their gills, trapping their food sieves that line their gill plates. Whale sharks live in warm water climates, although they do migrate. They are gentle giants who can grow over 40 feet long and give birth to live young.
Besides their beauty and mysterious habits (not much is known about their life cycle), whale sharks are also excellent subjects for shark education programs; proving that not all sharks are man-eating fiends. Only a few are kept in captivity -- the only ones in the United States are in the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta where you can even swim with them!
Whale sharks are listed as a vulnerable species, meaning they could easily become endangered if current circumstances persist. If you would like to mix it up and learn more these amazing fish, you can check out Wikipedia, National Geographic, and the ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library!
(Photo of a whale shark at the Georgia Aquarium by Zac Wolf, from the Wikimedia Commons.)