the whale shark off havana

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  • The Whale Shark off HavanaAuthor(s): E. W. GudgerSource: The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Jan., 1936), pp. 84-85Published by: American Association for the Advancement of ScienceStable URL: .Accessed: 02/05/2014 19:49

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    I HAVE been pursuing the whale shark for twenty-three years, yet, from the perusal of a vast literature together with the letters of a far-flung correspondence, I have been able to enumerate, as of Jan- uary 1, 1935, but seventy-six definite records. Since then I have recorded a sixth specimen from Acapulco, Mexico- the seventy-seventh known fish. The sev- enty-eighth fish was recently recorded by C. S. Brimley from a specilmen which came ashore at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, N. C., in June, 1934. And now comes the seventy-ninth record of the largest and most strangely marked and colored shark, Rhineodon typus, that swims the seas. So the capture of a new specimen and the taking of a good photo- graph of it are of the order of an event, ichthyologically speaking.

    Two other whale sharks have been cap- tured off Havana and have been recorded by Dr. W. H. Hoffmann and myself. And now to these, I add a third.

    The first Havana specimen was taken on November 20, 1927, at Jaimanitas, a fishing village about five miles west of the mouth of Havana Harbor. In round numbers this fish was thirty-two feet in length and eighteen in girth. Its body was about six feet in depth and the "small" of the tail was so great that a grown man could barely encircle it with his arms. The heart weighed forty-three pounds, the liver 900, and the total weight was estimated at nine tons. In the published record (1928) four figures of the fish were reproduced.

    The second Havana whale shark was taken on March 10, 1930, at Cojimar Bay, about five miles east of the mouth of Havana Harbor. This giant was thirty-four feet long and its weight was also estimated at nine tons. Dr. Hoff- mann and I put this specimen on record in :i 1930 b withonut reeroduein]fl the

    photograph. This was remedied in 1931, when we published a third article with all the photographs of both specimens.

    And now I have the pleasure of put- ting on record the third Havana Rhineo- don-captured on April 12, 1934. To preserve symmetry in the geography of these captures, this last fish allowed it- self to be taken in the mouth of Havana Harbor, opposite Morro Castle. It was harpooned by Captain Tom Gifford, whom I made known as the captor of a Rhineodon off Miami, in January, 1932.

    Captain Gifford had charge of a pri- vate yacht, with owner and party out fishing for marlin swordfish. One of the party was fighting a marlin when the whale shark came swimming fearlessly up toward the stern of the yacht. When almost at the stern, the harpoon was thrown. The great shark then turned and sounded. Having a heavy line on the harpoon, the fish was presently brought to the surface, tied to the stern of the yacht and towed into the harbor. Here it was swung up on the side of the yacht and dispatched with a rifle (15 shots being required). Like all the other whale sharks for which I have records, this one put up no fight, and in fact did practically nothing but try to swim away.

    This excellent photograph of this great fish shows it swung up alongside the yacht. On its body note the parallel ridges one dorsal and three lateral (on each side). Note also the vertical bars (in some cases made of confluent spots), anLd in the rectangles thus formed -note the large white or yellow spots. This rectangular arrangement of bars and spots has led the Cubans to call our fish pez darta (checkerboard fish).

    Noteworthy also are the huge gill-slits -exceeded in length only by those of the baskin! shark of colder waters, which


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    grows to about the same size tlhe huoe broad head, spotted all over, auid the enorniious terminal muoutlh. Mlost slharks have the mouth unlider the hiead. htenice the fiction that a slhark miuitst turii oii its back to bite, ancd none (niot ev-en the baskinr shark) lhas a miiothtli so large as Rh ilncodon. With the javs wi(le ()pe this fishl could take a bov inito its miiouttlh cavity.

    This specimneni was twN-enty feet, ten inilies in lenglth anid its weeillt was esti-

    mateol at ,000 pounds. Since whale slharks htave been measureol up to forty- five feet an(l estiunate(l up to sixty by scienitific meii andl by whialers used to makin( stuelh estimates, this onie mutist be reckonied a, yvomun anid a, comparatively smlall specimeni. The relatively small size of this particuilar fish was a fortui- nate niatter, siiice it miade it possible to swino up the fislh alongside the -aclht an-d to make the beautiful plhotograph shownm in the figure.

    This plhotograplh, showinig so clearly the extraordinary markings and colora- tion of Rhineodon, is a great additioni to the collection of plhotocrraphs of this shark in the American Museum the largest agrregation of suleh ph otograplis in the world. In this collection there is but onie other picture whichl even rivals this oine. For this latest plhotograph, I ani indebted to the courtesy of AMr. Al Pflueg,er, naturalist and taxidermist of Miami, Florida.

    This is the eigyhth whale slhark taken in the Straits of Florida. Time first rec- ord ooes back to 1902, wheni ani eihteeni- foot specimen caame aslhore at Ormiiond Beaclh, Fla. The record w1ill surelyI grrow, simee reports lhave for a niumumiber of years beei coming in to ine of tIme whale sharks seeni off Hav ana, anid particularly in the waters between Mliami and the B-alhama Islands. These reports are probably true, since the fislh is becomimig pretty- well knowin especially to the fishimig boat captains at MIiamni.

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    NOTE: Persoais inter-ested in the hiistory and distribution of the w%hale shiark thiroughiout the w%arm wvater-s of the world are referred to my article in the Proceedinigs of the Zoological Society of Lonidoni for 1934 (1935, pp. 853-893, 2 pls. and 2 maps). This coitains a conplete bibliographiy of Rhiincodlon to Janiuary 1, 1935.

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    Article Contentsp. 84p. 85

    Issue Table of ContentsThe Scientific Monthly, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Jan., 1936), pp. i-iv+1-98+v-viVolume Information [pp. 1-4]Front Matter [pp. i-iv]Research--The Yeast in the Loaf of Agriculture [pp. 5-29]Science Advisory Service to the Government [pp. 30-39]On the Structure of Solid Bodies [pp. 40-46]In Quest of Gorillas. III. Kivu, Land of Olympian Clouds [pp. 47-61]The World's Gold Resources [pp. 62-67]The First Official Photographer [pp. 68-74]Science Service Radio TalksEthiopian--The Oldest Language [pp. 75-77]Changing Varnishes [pp. 77-80]When the Ducks Fly South [pp. 80-83]

    The Whale Shark off Havana [pp. 84-85]The Progress of ScienceAward of the Nobel Prize in Physics to James Chadwick and in Chemistry to Frederick and Irene Curie Joliot [pp. 86-88]The Annual Meeting of the American Association [pp. 88-93]Exploring the Stratosphere [pp. 93-98]

    Back Matter [pp. v-vi]


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