If you've watched even one TV show about sharks, then chances are you've seen awesome footage of great whites jumping completely out of the water. As it turns out, though, they're not the only ones who like getting high. Their even larger cousin, the basking shark, has also been spotted doing so.
The second-largest fish in the world (after whale sharks and before great whites), basking sharks are generally thought to be slow and docile. They grow up to 10 meters long (33 ft) and feed almost entirely on plankton, posing no danger to humans. In a recently-published study, however, a team of scientists reported witnessing the animals jumping entirely out of the water off the coast of Ireland.
When one of the sharks was tagged with a data recording device, it was found to reach a top speed of 5.1 meters (16.7 ft) per second as it accelerated up from a depth of 28 meters (92 ft). Within nine seconds of starting its ascent, the animal proceeded to leave the water at an angle of almost 90 degrees, staying airborne for one second and reaching a height of 1.2 meters (3.9 ft) above the surface.
Upon analyzing videos of great whites, the scientists determined that they reached a similar speed and height when jumping. While great whites typically jump as they're in the process of attacking seals from below, however, it is not known why basking sharks do so.
"This finding does not mean that basking sharks are secretly fierce predators tearing round at high speed; they are still gentle giants munching away happily on zooplankton," says Dr. Jonathan Houghton of Queen's University Belfast. "It simply shows there is far more to these sharks than the huge swimming sieves we are so familiar with. It's a bit like discovering cows are as fast as wolves (when you're not looking)."
The research, which also involved scientists from Trinity College Dublin, the Irish Basking Shark Study Group and the University of Roehampton (Britain), is described in a paper that was published this week in the journal Biology Letters.
Source: Trinity College Dublin
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