By Sheril Kirshenbaum | July 15, 2009 9:25 am

This basking shark (not dangerous–they mainly eat plankton) washed ashore yesterday just a few miles east of Jones Beach in Long Island. The Washington Post estimates that the critter is 2,000 pounds and 20 feet long while CNN reports it may be 5,000 pounds and over 26 feet. Regardless, what an amazing creature!


It appears to have died from some kind of illness and researchers are examining the carcass before it’s buried in sand dunes nearby on the beach. Usually basking sharks die in the ocean.


Comments (13)

  1. Hopefully this illness (if that is the case) is not pandemic and is merely a one off sort of thing.

  2. Blogger

    Don’t most marine animals die in the ocean?

  3. Blooger @3: LOL. I read it to mean that typically basking sharks don’t beach themselves, or die so close to land as to be washed ashore.

  4. @TJ #1 – more and more, we’re finding marine animals bearing land-based illnesses, or very close analogues. It generally happens in marine mammals, not fish – but that doesn’t mean it can’t. I know a marine animal vet who is gravely concerned about avian flu (not H1N1) becoming extant in marin epopulations, an dthat being a vector for pandemic. Rest assured, however, that there are some very good vets and pathologists workin gthis one.

    And yes, most marine animals do die in the ocean. So did said shark, because the ocean, by definition, extends to mean higher high tide, whichh the surf hadn’t yet reached.

  5. Thanks for adding that Philip H., the transmission of viruses to marine animals is worth more discussion.

  6. Meyers and other “new atheists” are hindering rational dialog and, untintentionally, encouraging people of faith to remain steadfast in their religiosity and rejection of science. Free thinking atheist scientists need to show solidarity in our rejection of Meyers.

    The commenters on his “science” blog are so inept and over-zealous that one can’t help but conclude that “new atheism” — if the activity on Meyers’s blog is any indication of its fruits — is close to earning full-fledged cult status.

    Meyers’s main strategy is to encourage dozens of angry followers to shout down any dissenting view point, any idea that doesn’t conform to the narrow “new atheist” (=logically superficial) approach to criticizing religion. Just watch them all show up here soon to “pharyngulize” us. (Yes, the term ‘pharyngulize’ is actually part of their cult lingo.)

  7. Blogger

    Autonomy — leave that in the other thread.

  8. Erasmussimo

    Sorry to commit topic crime, but there’s a problem in the topic “How Scientific Illiteracy Cost Us 20 Years on Global Warming”. The most recent poster left an HTML tag dangling, and now everything after that tag is taken to be part of a link he posted. If you click in the “leave a reply” text box, you jump to his link. It’s impossible to reply. Could you folks fix that?

  9. Thanks Erasmussimo, it appears to be fixed.

  10. Philip @5: more and more, we’re finding marine animals bearing land-based illnesses, or very close analogues. It generally happens in marine mammals, not fish – but that doesn’t mean it can’t.

    I guess I’m not really that surprised. However while it is very interesting, it’s more than a bit disturbing. Are we talking more viruses, or are we talking bacteria? Also, just how much raw sewage is released into the ocean? Is that the most likely cause?

  11. An illness? Or the plankton fighting back?

  12. Christina Viering

    Sad that this is occuring to our wildlife.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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