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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones

Other Sea Life


Other Sea Life

Filter- Feeding New England Sharks
Basking Shark
Whale Shark
Carnivorous New England Sharks
Tiger Shark
Spiny Dogfish Shark

Tiger Shark

Tiger Shark photographed by Scott Surner

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What is a Filter-Feeding Animal?
A filter feeding animal takes large amounts of water into its mouth  which it strains through special filtering structures to remove plankton and other small food particles.
Some very large animals are filter feeding including Baleen Whales and some Sharks. It is interesting that some of the largest animals in the ocean feed on small food particles.

Small animals such as: Krill, sponges, and clams are filter-feeders.  The Flamingo is a filter feeding bird.

 Filter- Feeding Sharks
There are three species of filter-feeding sharks.
    ·Basking Shark Cetorhinus maximus
    ·Whale Shark Rhincodon typus
    ·Megamouth Shark, Megachasma pelagios

The first two of these have been seen in New England waters. The third species the Megamouth Shark is very rare and feeds in deeper water.

Shark Status
Of the 307 shark species assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 50 are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered, but only the White Sharks, Whale Sharks  and Basking Sharks are protected internationaly under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Basking Shark Cetorhinus maximus
If you spot a dark fin sitting rather still on the surface, your first thought is Ocean Sunfish. If you watch for a minute and see a second smaller fin, think Basking Shark.

Up to 19 feet long and with shark in their name, you may jump to the conclusion this is a frightening animal. Actually it is a big shark that feeds on plankton and is pretty harmless. All wild animals should however be treated with respect. Keep your distance and enjoy watching the animal without interfering in its life. After all you don't want the shark interfering with you.

In this photograph you can see that the shark has a dorsal fin which is larger and remains above the water most of the time. The second and smaller fin is part of the tail and usually appears and disappears as the harmless animals floats on the surface.

Of the filter feeding sharks, the Basking Shark is the only one commonly seen on pelagic trips on the Continental Shelf off New England. It is frequently seen by watch watching boats.

Basking Shark Emmalee Tarry

The Basking Shark moves slowly through the water taking in water and any food that might be in the water.  The water moves out through the gills where food is caught by the gill rakers and oxygen absorbed. To feed and breath the Basking Shark must keep moving as it has no means of pumping water into the mouth. It does have teeth. Basking Sharks do breach.

It is the second largest living fish (Whale Shark is the largest ). It usually swims in coastal waters over the continental shelf and is even seen in bays with narrow mouths. It follows plankton in the water column and when the plankton rises, the Basking Shark may be seen on the surface. It is found in all the temperate oceans of the world and is thought to cross the equator.

Unfortunately it is taken for food ( shark fin soup and shark liver oil) and animal feed. In some areas it has been overfished and needs protection. Often the shark is caught on hooks and after the fins removed for shark fin soup the animal is thrown back in the sea to die.  Don't eat shark fin soup.

Whale Shark Rhincodon typus
An otherwise unremarkable trip to the continental shelf edge on July 16, 2011 produced the unusual sighting of a large Whale Shark and a great deal of excitement. This was a "life sighting" for almost everyone aboard the Helen H except the Captain who said he had a distant look some time before. The shark drifted near to the boat and at one point bumped it with its nose giving all aboard a clear view. After it swam off, some lucky participants on the stern saw it breach.

It is the largest living fish in the oceans. It usually lives in tropical waters and is found in the Carribean.

The Whale Shark unlike the Basking Shark can suck water into the mouth and then close its mouth to push the water through the gills.The Whale Shark is slow to reproduce and declining in all the world's oceans due to over exploitation.

Whale Shark Luke Seitz Whale Shark Luke Seitz
Whale Shark Luke Seitz

On the 2011 trip the boat was loaded with photographers and their huge lenses when the Whale Shark came upon the boat. Unfortunately the shark was too close for the big lenses to focus correctly. Luke Seitz was the only photographer to my knowledge who was able to switch lenses quickly and get these three wonderful shots which he has kindly agreed to share with all of us.

A second Whale Shark was spotted on a subsequent trip.

Carnivorous Sharks in New England Waters

Tiger Shark

Tiger Shark Scott Surner

 Tiger Shark Scott Surner

Scott Surner two photographs of the same Tiger Shark.  The bird is a Wilson's Storm-petrel.  (see trailing legs)

Spiney Dogfish Shark Jim Beseda NH

Spiny Dogfish Shark
Spiny Dogfish Shark photographed by Jim Besada on 2012 NH Audubon spring trip from Rye, NH.

Information about New England Sharks

Captain Tom's Guide To New England Sharks
A website about the New England shark species and how to identify them with heavy emphasis on the blue, thresher, shortfin mako, and porbeagle.

Other Sea Life | Whales & Dolphin | Ocean Sunfish | Sea Turtles | Sharks | Misc. Sea Life Top of Page

Compagno,Leonard,Dando, Marc, Fowler, Sarah (2005) Sharks of the World Princeton University Press Princeton, NJ