Review: Whale Shark – Natural World Collection: Waterworld: The Whale Shark (2008)


Directed by: Emma Ross | 50 minutes | documentary

A larger fish than a full-grown whale shark you will no longer encounter in earthly waters today. Exactly how big these speckled super sharks can get is still a matter of debate, but the most reliable estimates are 15 and maybe almost 20 meters. Despite their often awe-inspiring size, if you ever encounter a whale shark in a tropical destination, you can take a dip with confidence. Whale sharks do not have terrifying rows of large, razor-sharp teeth with which they can tear up large prey, but mainly feed on plankton and small fish. The whale shark swims with its mouth wide open while foraging. After closing the mouth again, it filters the water with special structures around its gills. Small fish, plankton and squid get stuck in it. The seawater leaves the body through the gills. The whale shark can process about six thousand liters of water per hour. They are gentle giants who often seem to feel comfortable even around snorkelers or divers. You only have to watch out for the tail, because an unintentional blow can of course have far-reaching consequences for a relatively insignificant being like a human.

“Whale Shark” makes it clear that whale sharks are not only large, but are still a partly unsolved conundrum to science. The documentary follows Mark Meekan, an Australian biologist who devotes most of his time studying the largest fish in the world. Its base is Ningaloo Reef, a sprawling reef system in western Australia and one of the few places where whale sharks show up in large numbers to feed for a few months of the year (usually March / April to June / July) with the eggs and sperm cells of the countless corals that flock to produce offspring at that time of year. Whale Shark offers an interesting glimpse into the kitchen of an enthusiastic researcher whose work is in many ways essential to the future of the whale shark. Because although exact data on the size of the global population is still lacking, it is clear that we are dealing with an endangered species. Mark’s observation that the average length of his subjects has shrunk significantly over the years is a disturbing signal that points with a near certainty of overfishing. “A big problem, because whale sharks get very old and don’t reach sexual maturity until around thirty. So they reproduce very slowly and take a very long time to mature. It goes without saying that large losses therefore have a disastrous effect on the population. ”

In terms of form and content, “Whale Shark” is a successful combination of hard science and enchanting underwater cinematography. While watching you learn a lot about the mysterious whale shark, but you can also dream away from time to time with beautiful images of whale sharks, sea turtles and other animals that traverse the deep blue waters of the southern hemisphere. Mark Meekan’s spontaneous enthusiasm, which he has already passed on to his six-year-old son, according to the film images, is also contagious. Mark’s genuine fascination with “his” whale sharks makes it clear that a person’s life is much richer when he manages to preserve the wonder and curiosity of his childhood and take it into the sometimes numbing stage of indifferent adulthood. “Whale Shark” is a fascinating, beautiful and with many interesting facts punctuated with a portrait of a mysterious and enchanting sea giant. A creature that will hopefully be preserved for future generations thanks to the work of Mark Meekan and like-minded researchers.

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