Big Picture: Big Gulp
Text and Photo by Andy Murch
When you’re staring into the gaping maw of a whale shark, it’s reassuring to know that the largest fish in the sea is incapable of swallowing anything larger than a grapefruit, preferring instead a diet of tiny organisms that somehow manage to support its immense size.
This shark is ‘ram feeding’ during the summer’s annual tuna spawn off Mexico’s Isla Mujeres, where hundreds of the big fish congregate to gorge on dense clouds of the sticky tuna eggs. Jaws agape, they cruise back and forth through the invisible mass until their gills are clogged, then close their mouths to suck the protein-rich food into their stomachs. Anything unwanted is regurgitated before they’re off for the next big gulp.
Remoras often accompany the whale sharks to rid them of parasites and to devour remains of the processed fish eggs once they’ve passed through the shark’s digestive system. Here, a small remora can be seen on the shark’s ‘tongue’, perhaps not the ideal rest spot at mealtime.
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Love that picture of the gentle giant!