Whale Shark Shows Incredible Navigation Skills

When it comes to finding one’s way, Garmin, Tom-Tom and Google Maps has got nothing on Mother Nature.

As part of ongoing research into the marine ecosystem, researchers in Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Guy Harvey Research Institute are studying various shark species, including the largest fish in the sea – the whale shark. They are studying many aspects of shark-life – from migratory patterns to their genomes, all with the goal of having the data used to protect these animals for generations to come.

“The more we learn about these animals, their growth dynamics, where they go, what areas may be their nurseries, it can lead to a better understanding of their life history, which is imperative to guide conservation efforts,” said Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., the director of NSU’s Guy Harvey Research Institute.

Shivji points to one tagged whale shark – Rio Lady – who in the time she’s been tagged (approximately 10 months) has shown incredible migratory ability, making extensive, round-trip journeys. Notably, She’s made long forays into the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, only to return to nearly the same spot where researchers first met her (she’s is currently approaching her tagging site for the third time.). Another whale shark, Milo, has been tracked 351 days and counting, making it the longest duration, continuous track for a whale shark in the Atlantic.

Whale sharks are endangered as they are harvested in many countries for their fins, oils, meat, and other items, and sometimes also victims of ship strikes during their migrations. That’s why the research on this species is so vital – learning as much as possible on migratory patterns and more can help those in positions to enact legislation to protect these majestic creatures to do so.

Anyone interested in following the trek of Rio Lady, Milo, or any of the dozens of other sharks NSU GHRI researchers have tagged, can log on to nova.edu/sharktracking and choose which shark’s path to follow.

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About Nova Southeastern University (NSU): Located in beautiful Fort Lauderdale, Florida, NSU is ranked among U.S. News & World Report’s Top 200 National Research Universities and is a dynamic, private research university providing high-quality educational and research programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and first-professional degree levels. Established in 1964, NSU now includes 16 colleges, the 215,000-square-foot Center for Collaborative Research, a private JK-12 grade school, the Mailman Segal Center for Human Development with specialists in Autism, the world-class NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, and the Alvin Sherman Library, Research and Information Technology Center, which is Florida’s largest public library. NSU has campuses in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Miami, Miramar, Orlando, Palm Beach, and Tampa, Florida, as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico, while maintaining a presence online globally. Classified as a research university with “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, NSU is one of only 50 universities nationwide to also be awarded Carnegie’s Community Engagement Classification, and is also the largest private institution in the United States that meets the U.S. Department of Education’s criteria as a Hispanic-serving Institution. For more information, please visit www.nova.edu.

About NSU’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography: The college provides high-quality undergraduate (bachelor’s degree) and graduate (master’s and doctoral degrees and certificates) education programs in a broad range of disciplines, including marine sciences, mathematics, biophysics, and chemistry. Researchers carry out innovative basic and applied research programs in coral reef biology, ecology, and geology; fish biology, ecology, and conservation; shark and billfish ecology; fisheries science; deep-sea organismal biology and ecology; invertebrate and vertebrate genomics, genetics, molecular ecology, and evolution; microbiology; biodiversity; observation and modeling of large-scale ocean circulation, coastal dynamics, and ocean atmosphere coupling; benthic habitat mapping; biodiversity; histology; and calcification. The college’s newest building is the state-of-the-art Guy Harvey Oceanographic Center, an 86,000-square-foot structure filled with laboratories; offices; seminar rooms; an auditorium; and indoor and outdoor running sea water facilities. Please visit cnso.nova.edu for more information.

About NSU’s Guy Harvey Research Institute: Established in 1999, NSU’s Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) is a collaboration between the renowned marine artist, scientist and explorer, Dr. Guy Harvey, and Nova Southeastern University’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography. The mission of NSU’s GHRI is to provide the scientific information necessary to understand, conserve, and effectively manage the world’s marine fishes and their ecosystems. It is one of only a handful of private organizations dedicated exclusively to the science-based conservation of marine fish populations and biodiversity. The research, education and outreach activities of NSU’s GHRI are supported by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, AFTCO Inc., extramural research grants, philanthropic donations by private businesses and individuals and NSU.  Please visit nova.edu/ocean/ghri/index.html for more information.