The depths of the sea still have many surprises to reveal to us, and the one that scientists have just unearthed is truly incredible. By studying it whale sharkthe largest fish in the world, they discovered a unique feature in its diet. Something that absolutely changes the cards on the table regarding what we have always known about these giants.
The largest omnivorous animal in the world is a fish
The whale shark not only feeds on krill and other small fish, but also of algae and other plant material present on the seabed. This makes him an omnivore (the largest in the world), a situation that until now had never been hypothesized. But why is this discovery so important? And how did the researchers unearth this detail? Let’s go in order: until now it has always been believed that there was a huge difference between giants of the mainland and those of the sea, especially in their diet.
The largest animals on earth are herbivores: just think of real giants of nature such as elephants, rhinos and hippos, which feed almost exclusively on leaves, branches and roots. The situation under water is quite different, since scientists have always believed that gigantic animals such as whales and sharks needed a carnivorous diet in order to reach their imposing dimensions. So, no surprise when it turns out that these creatures feed mainly on krill, plankton and small fish.
The whale shark is omnivorous: the study
New research conducted byAustralian Institute of Marine Sciences it reveals to us that basically this is not the case: “Perhaps the system of evolution on earth and in water is not so different” – says Dr. Mark Meekan. The study, published in Ecologytook into consideration the results of several biopsy samples of whale sharks from Ningaloo Reef, the beautiful coral reef of Western Australia. Comparing fatty acids and amino acids present in the tissues of these animals with those found in plankton and algae samples, the truth has emerged.
In addition to finding compounds from small fish, moles whale shark fabrics scientists have identified some belonging to Sargassum, a type of brown alga very common in that stretch of ocean. A discovery that, in itself, may not be very revealing: it is quite evident that a giant animal like this shark, opening its jaws to eat fish, can safely also swallow some plant sources.
However, going deeper with their investigations, the biologists were able to discover that the whale shark not only swallows plant material, but it uses it to produce energy and for its own growth. “We think that in the course of their evolution, these sharks have developed the ability to digest part of this Sargassum that enters their bowels” – explains Dr. Meekan. In short, this research has brought out a new truth: the animal omnivorous largest in the world is hidden in the depths of the ocean, and it is the whale shark.
Its name refers precisely to large size it has developedmaking it partly resemble a whale. The largest specimen ever recorded so far has a length of 18.8 meters. A real giant to keep well away from.