TV

Producers find ‘scientific gold’ following whale sharks

'It's a very rare sight - one I've only witnessed twice in 10 years of whale shark observation,' says Dr. Mark Meekan, a marine biologist who was followed by Big Wave productions for their new doc Whale Shark. The sight he's referring to is one that is making this natural history doc airing on BBC2's 'Natural World' a landmark event; it's a whale shark taking a poo.
November 17, 2008

‘It’s a very rare sight – one I’ve only witnessed twice in 10 years of whale shark observation,’ says Dr. Mark Meekan, a marine biologist who was followed by Big Wave productions for their new doc Whale Shark. The sight he’s referring to is one that is making this natural history doc airing on BBC2′s ‘Natural World’ a landmark event; it’s a whale shark taking a poo.

The purpose of following Dr. Meekan for a year was not solely to document a shark having a bowel movement, but the event is big (literally) because the sample is very useful in the scientific examination of this species of shark. ‘The DNA in it is scientific gold because of what it reveals about feeding habits,’ says Meekan. But, apparently, it’s best not too get too close to the stuff. ‘Whale shark poo is long, gloopy, about as thick as my wrist and its smell is awful.’ Maybe a bit too much information.

The real reason the sharks were tracked by Meekan was not for a stool sample, but rather to see where the giant shark – we’re talking twice the size of a great white – hides. ‘These sharks are as big as a bus yet, despite their bulk, they are hard to find and we know very little about them,’ says Emma Ross, head of development at Big Wave and producer/director on the project. ‘Females and babies are rarely seen. We don’t know where they breed or travel. It’s thought that they travel great distances but where, and why? No-one knows.’

In order to find out what these big fish do, Meekan tagged six males with GPS trackers, an underwater camera and a dive computer. ‘Trying to track them was a real adventure with lots of drama, including having to scoop a £15,000 shark-cam from the sea, storm hazards and GPS tags coming off,’ says Ross.

Whale Shark airs tomorrow on BBC2 as part of the 25th anniversary of ‘Natural World.’

And if that wasn’t enough giant poo news for you, here’s an interesting story from the summer: http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=612682

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