Gentle Giants

From Issue: Discovery 3/1/2000

 What comes to mind when you think of the word “shark”? Is it a picture of a great white baring rows of razor-sharp teeth? If it is, don’t feel bad. It’s a picture that’s not too far off the mark, there are over 350 species of sharks, and nearly all of them are predators.

For most sharks, dinner comes in fairly large chunks, They’ll eat almost anything, from crabs and shellfish to seals and other sharks. But there are three big exceptions: the whale shark, the basking shark, and the megamouth shark.

The whale shark is the biggest fish on Earth. It grows to about 40 feet in length and weighs around 15 tons. Like all fish, the whale shark gets its oxygen from water as it passes through the gills. But along with all the water comes a lot of small creatures. The food is trapped on a fine, spongy webbing before passing through the gills and back out into the sea. All sorts of tasty morsels, from tiny plankton to sardines, are enjoyed by this phenomenal fish.

The basking shark is the second largest fish in the world, and grows up to 30 feet long. It lives in colder waters than the whale shark, and has a different way of feeding, whereas the whale shark sucks in water when it wants to feed, the basking shark just opens its mouth and allows the food to pass over “gill rakers.” These rakers have sticky bristles that trap food. The basking shark also is picky about what it eats, feeding almost entirely on a tiny animal called a copepod.

The megamouth shark uses special gill rakers, too, although it seems to suck in its meals of deep-sea shrimp and jellyfish. Not a lot is known about this very unusual critter. Scientists did not know it existed until 1976. Then, in 1990, a 16-foot-long specimen was captured off the coast of California and fitted with a tracking device. Scientists noticed that it followed its food from a depth of 50 feet at night, to a depth of 500 feet during the day.

According to evolutionists, filter-feeding sharks descended from regular predatory types. They cannot really explain why this happened. Even worse, they cannot really explain how these complicated feeding structures developed. And they have to do this explaining two times: once for how the whale shark feeds and again for how the basking and megamouth sharks feed. A designer, not nature, is a better answer for the origin of these gentle giants.


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