Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are the largest shark, and indeed largest of any fishes alive today. They feed on plankton and travel large distances to find enough food to sustain their huge size, and to reproduce. Whale sharks are found in all the tropical oceans of the world. Their white spotted colouration makes these gentle giants easy to distinguish, and popular with snorkelers and divers at sites where they aggregate off the coast.

The maximum size of whale sharks is not known, but could be as large as 20m. Females give birth to live young but this has never been observed. Where pupping occurs and where the youngest animals situate remains a mystery, as they are very rarely found. Adults are often found feeding at the surface, but may dive to 1000m. Whale sharks are protected from fishing in many countries these days, but are in decline in some areas.

1. They’re not whales, but the world’s largest fish

These huge creatures can grow up to 39 feet long. But despite their size, whale sharks are often referred to as “gentle giants.”

2. Eating is laborious work

Whale sharks are filter feeders and can neither bite nor chew. They can process more than 1585 gallons of water an hour through their gills. Although its mouth can stretch to four feet wide, a whale shark’s teeth are so tiny that they can only eat small shrimp, fish, and plankton by using their gill rakers as a suction filter.

3. They can be very old

It’s thought that less than 10% of whale sharks born survive to adulthood, but those that do may live to 150.

4. They’re slow swimmers and migrate a long way

With the exception of the Mediterranean Sea, whale sharks can be found in all temperate and tropical oceans around the world and migrate thousands of miles to different feeding grounds. But moving is slow going, as they move at speeds of little more than 3 miles per hour.

5. Along with other sharks, they’re under threat

Many sharks are accidentally caught in fishing gear, as well as caught deliberately for their fins, which are a delicacy in Asia. Their ocean home is also in danger. From climate change warming the water – affecting both habitats, prey, and shark population shifts – to plastic pollution, which could cause entanglement or be ingested, especially by filter feeders.

4. They’re slow swimmers and migrate a long way

With the exception of the Mediterranean Sea, whale sharks can be found in all temperate and tropical oceans around the world and migrate thousands of miles to different feeding grounds. But moving is slow going, as they move at speeds of little more than 3 miles per hour.

5. Along with other sharks, they’re under threat

Many sharks are accidentally caught in fishing gear, as well as caught deliberately for their fins, which are a delicacy in Asia. Their ocean home is also in danger. From climate change warming the water – affecting both habitats, prey, and shark population shifts – to plastic pollution, which could cause entanglement or be ingested, especially by filter feeders.

THREATS: Whale sharks are highly valued on international markets. Demand for their meat, fins and oil remains a threat to the species, particularly by unregulated fisheries. They are victims of bycatch, the accidental capture of non-target species in fishing gear. And whale shark tourism presents a threat to the species as it can interrupt their feeding and sharks can be injured by boat propellers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *