Aerial photos have captured odd gatherings of almost 1,400 basking sharks and researchers aren’t totally sure what it is the animals are up to.
It’s not uncommon to see the sharks individually, but seeing them in large groups is rare. It’s still unclear why the animals are coming together, but researchers suggest they are likely gathering in the waters from Long Island to Nova Scotia to grab a bite, according to recent findings published in the Journal of Fish Biology.
The scientists studied aerial photos taken between June 1980 and November 2013 and found 10 large groups of the sharks circling an area and acting as if they were feeding, a release on the findings said.
After studying more than three decades’ worth of aerial photos collected during studies of North Atlantic right whales, the scientists found that the sharks tend to gather in the summer and fall when temperatures on the sea’s surface ranged from 55 to 75 degrees.
“Photogrammetry, the use of photographs to measure objects, has provided estimated lengths of animals at the surface and allowed us to classify animals in the aggregation as likely juveniles or mature adults,” study lead author and NOAA protected species researcher Leah Crowe said in the release.
The largest group recorded included at least 1,398 sharks and was spotted in November 2013 in the waters around southern New England, according to the study.
The sharks’ numbers are only in the hundreds, so 1,400 of them coming together as a group is a big chunk of the population, Dalhousie University marine conservation biologist Boris Worm said in a statement obtained by the Huffington Post.
Researchers also noted there was a high zooplankton concentration in the water at the time of the gathering, so the group was likely foraging for food in that area.
“Although the reason for these aggregations remains elusive, our ability to access a variety of survey data through the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium Database and to compare information has provided new insight into the potential biological function of these rare events,” Crowe said. “The study also highlights the value of opportunistic data collection.”
Basking sharks are listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List after being hunted for several centuries for their fins, meat and liver oil.