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Friday, November 28, 2014

FALL CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE 2014: Day #25A--What About Whale Shark Steaks?

My previous posting had to do with the work being conducted by Kinki University on the Pacific Bluefin Tuna.  The problem with any tuna is that it feeds at a high trophic level:


Sharks would be at an even higher feeding level, as they eat tuna.  The importance of this graphic is that up the chain, 90% of the mass is sacrificed at each step up the trophic level.  Thus, if you begin with limited nutrients, as in an Ultimate Ocean Ranch, you can produce 5x10x10x10 = 5,000 more fish if you find a marketable species that consumes nutrients at the lowest trophic level (plankton) than tuna.  Of course, we humans, when we consume shark fin soup, not only waste 99% of the fish, but are feeding in a ratio range of one in a million.  To the left is Shimizu's rendering of an underwater city, which someday might support an ocean ranch.

It turns out that Yu-chan, the new Osaka whale shark, although a shark (note, NOT a whale) is a filter feeder, and sucks in plankton.  Also, too, krill and small nektonic life.  So, theoretically, in a future ultimate ocean ranch, you could produce somewhere around 5,000 times more seafood mass with a species such as a whale shark when compared to bluefin or any other tuna.  Modern Farmer earlier this year reported on this concept.

A couple of decades ago I proposed the prospects of developing a project with National Sun Yat Sen University in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, to cultivate the rabbit fish and whale shark for commercialization in a sea ranch.  The National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium in Hengchun, near their campus, had at that time two whale sharks.  Both the rabbit fish, which I've tasted (excellent), and the whale shark (consumed in China--left), survive at the lowest trophic level.  

Unexpectedly, my previous posting on whale shark steaks is now my 5th most read article (see list in right column).  It is suspected that some of the fins sold in Chinese markets are so large that they must come from whale sharks.  So at least we know that the soup quality is fine.  The flesh?  As it is known as tofu fish, not sure what this means.

There are, of course, various varieties of rabbit fish, mostly black, but here are a couple of more attractive ones:


However, there will be a huge hurdle to cross for the world to embrace the whale shark as a substitute for land cattle.  I mean, can you really eat Yu-chan?  That's like having Bambi for dinner.  Yet, venison is regularly served in many of the finer restaurants around the world.
In addition, there is considerable controversy about whales and sharks today.  To be perfectly clear, a whale shark is a shark.  However, that same aquarium in Taiwan has recently made headlines by shipping their whale sharks to Georgia.  Recently, Norton passed away in the Taiwan national aquarium and they sent off Ralph to the Georgia Aquarium, and he too died.  However, Taroko and Yushan are appearing to do well after the shipment.  Georgia Aquarium:


Here is how an Ultimate Ocean Ranch would work.  That light green cell to the left would serve as the habitat.  Deep ocean fluids to operate the OTEC cycle are at 5 F and very high in nutrients.  This upwelling shows promise for initiating the growth cycle.  Kind of akin to having free fertilizer and irrigation, of course, for  everything occurs in the ocean.  The system would if designed properly feed itself.  In time a mechanism will be developed to keep the sea ranch occupants in place without using cages (temperature, nutrient, or whatever barriers would be considered).  Ocean robotics would be utilized to keep predators away and to maintain the whale shark in the cool cell.

A female whale shark can give birth to 300 pups:


At the age of one, the pup grows to 8 feet.  Again, this sounds so morbid--Yu-chan, pups, bambi--but the ranch would harvest at this stage.  Consider that a typical beef cattle takes a year and a half or two to reach market, and the mother has, mostly, only one calf/year.  Not sure about the gestation period for whale sharks, but 300 versus one is an attractive advantage for commercialism.  What makes this all so convincing is that beef is about as inefficient a commodity as you can grow, for the carbon dioxide footprint is horrendous and the energy utilized to bring that rib eye to your table is off the charts.  Just as three examples:
  • nearly half of the water used in the USA goes to raising animals for food
  • one calorie of animal protein uses 11 calories of fossil fuels
  • 70% of grains grown in the U.S. are fed to animals
  • 16 pounds of grain produce one pound of meat
  • 5 pounds of rest fish are fed to one pound of farmed fish (thus, it makes supreme sense for the ultimate ocean ranch to feed itself)

Whale sharks are estimated to live a hundred years, if not longer.  No, there is no such thing as that creature below.


So, are there any prospects for whale shark R&D on the Pacific International Ocean Station?  Any interest from Kinki University or Sun Yat SeUniversity?  Or Toyota?
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