The Yahoo News , 18 May 2006

Scientists to Study Dead Basking Shark

NEWPORT, R.I. - Biologists hope to glean almost a year's worth of data from a dead basking shark that washed up on a beach this week with a satellite tag attached to its fin.

The 20-foot-long female shark washed up on the beach late Wednesday or early Thursday, said Nancy Kohler, a biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Narragansett. Scientists weren't immediately sure how old the shark was or what caused its death.

But the shark was tagged last year by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, and the satellite transponder found on the corpse could provide months of information on its movements.

Greg Skomal, a shark specialist for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, placed the tag on the shark's dorsal fin in June about a mile off Martha's Vineyard.

The $3,500 tag was supposed to detach from the shark's dorsal fin after six months, float to the ocean's surface and transmit data to a satellite orbiting above. For unknown reasons, the tag never detached, Skomal said.

The device is being sent to its manufacturer whom Skomal hopes can tap into its data.

"We may be able to actually recreate what happened to this poor creature," he said. "We get to spy on her life after the fact."

The basking shark is part of a species that feeds off plankton and generally roams between Florida and Newfoundland, Canada, Kohler said.

"They're quite harmless," she said.

Basking sharks are known to congregate off New England during the spring and summer to feed off plankton-rich waters, Kohler said. It's not known how long the sharks live, how large they grow or even how far they migrate.

Much of what biologists know about the basking shark comes from the records of 19th and 20th century British fisherman who once hunted the shark for its liver oil. Today, fishing for basking sharks is illegal in the United States, and a U.N. treaty restricts their trade in much of the world.