The whale shark or Rhincodon typus is the world's largest recorded living fish in the ocean. These unique fishes are filter feeders, which draw the term 'whale' in their name from the similar feeding technique of whales. They are found widely across the globe near the equatorial zones. The tropical and temperate waters are the favorite spot of these fishes. The slightly warm waters are where these pelagic fishes thrive well. These fishes are migratory in nature and are known to travel for thousands of kilometers.
They are carnivorous animals, yet they have their differences from sharks. Unlike sharks, whale sharks do not hunt large prey. They are most interested in tiny krill, sardines, and planktons. These gentle and docile fishes are under threat owing to the high value of their fins and flesh. The baby whale sharks are believed to be extremely playful, and the adult whale sharks peacefully interact with ocean divers.
Large and flat heads, giant mouths, the body is grey on the top, but it is light underneath.
Scaly blue-grey skin, with unique white spots
What are their main threats?
Other large oceanic predators, humans
What is their conservation status?
Where you'll find them
Temperate seas, tropical oceans and sea
Philippines, Mexico, South Africa, Belize, Ecuador, Australia
Whale Shark Interesting Facts
What type of animal is a whale shark?
Whale sharks are the largest fish species in the world to date. They are a gigantic yet harmless species of sharks, which are very peaceful. This fish has a flat head in front of its large head, instead of underneath like the other shark species. They are non-aggressive, and many a time, it is seen that they allow ocean divers to approach them. It is a curious fish and is often found to coexist with other ocean species.
What class of animal does a whale shark belong to?
A whale shark, despite having a 'whale' in its name, is not a mammal. It is a filter-feeding fish, which belongs to Chondrichthyes' class, meaning having cartilages instead of bones.
How many whale sharks are there in the world?
Although the whale shark population lacks a proper count, it has been estimated that 8000 whale sharks at the very least roam around free waters.
Where does a whale shark live?
Whale sharks are found in the warm or tropical seas and the temperate seas of the world. Almost all the water bodies along the equator (30 degrees North and South of the equator), except for the Mediterranean sea, is habitat to whale sharks. This fish can be found in Central America, South Africa, and also in South America. In the countries of Australia, Mexico, Belize, Ecuador, Philippines, they can be spotted easily.
What is a whale shark's habitat?
The whale shark habitat is primarily determined by the presence of abundant food. A whale shark is essentially a pelagic fish, which can be found in shallow coastal waters. They also swim and occupy the ocean's deeper waters, but the most common spot for them is shallow waters. They prefer the water temperature ranging between 21-30 degrees Celsius, which is similar to 70-80F. However, some whale sharks have also been spotted in colder waters, having temperatures of 3-4 degree Celsius (37.4F). These whale shark habitat facts are worth knowing.
Who do whale sharks live with?
Whale sharks are solitary creatures and avoid living in packs. They live all by themselves, apart from certain special occasions. They gather in groups for feeding or when they perform their annual migration to the Australian coast.
How long does a whale shark live?
The exact estimation of a whale shark's life span is not yet known clearly. But it is estimated by many scientists that these big fishes can survive for an average of 70 years. There are examples of whale sharks living for over 100 years, the longest record being 125 years. When kept in captivity, the life span of these fishes reduces drastically, and most of them can survive for 8-10 years only.
How do they reproduce?
At 25-30 years of age, whale sharks get ready to give birth. The process of reproduction takes time, much like the other shark species. A whale shark is ovoviviparous, which means that the female sharks retain the whale shark egg within her body after mating. They do so to provide the baby shark eggs a safe place so that they can develop. Until the perfect time to hatch, the eggs will remain within the female body.
What is their conservation status?
When it comes to the conservation status of whale sharks, owing to the impact of fisheries, the IUCN or International Union for Conservation of Nature regards whale sharks as Endangered.
Whale Shark Fun Facts
What do whale sharks look like?
Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are considered the largest fish in the world. Although they have the shape of a shark, it differs from a shark in its mouth placement. Sharks have mouths underneath their heads, but whale sharks have their mouths placed in the front side of their large head. The size of this fish's mouth is also unusually large and can be as wide as five feet. The skin of whale sharks is grey on top, and their underneath parts are light-colored. They have unique markings on their skin of a light yellow color. These markings manifest in the form of stripes and dots on their thick skin.
How cute are they?
Whale sharks are considered to be quite cute. This is because of their non-aggressive nature. They may have a monstrous size, yet they are very docile in nature.
How do they communicate?
The communication between whale sharks is yet to be understood fully. As much as it can be understood, it is found that whale sharks communicate through body language. Like all other sharks, whale sharks have excellent hearing capacities too. They can hear extremely small frequencies easily.
How big is a whale shark?
The average length of a whale shark can be anywhere between 217 -393 in. This length makes them much identical to the length of a tourist bus! This length also makes them at least four times larger than an inland Taipan snake! It also makes them at least two times the size of a tiger shark!
How fast can a whale shark swim?
A whale shark is a reasonably gentle giant. It can swim at a speed of three mph. They can also swim at short bursts of at least six mph.
How much does a whale shark weigh?
The largest fish, the whale shark, has an average weight ranging between 29998-40000 lb. This makes them two times the weight of an African elephant.
What are their male and female names of the species?
The male, female species do not have a separate name. They are known by the neutral gender term 'whale shark.'
What would you call a baby whale shark?
When it comes to whale shark baby facts, just like the young ones of other sharks, the baby of a whale shark is called a pup.
What do they eat?
Whale sharks, just like most whales, are filter feeders. The whale shark diet consists simply of plankton, small fishes, tiny krill, and so on. Their feeding does not require them to hunt large prey. They survive by feeding on plankton, mackerels, and small squids. This fish does not eat substantial food, especially those like crabs which have grown too large for it. These whale shark diet facts can seem shocking considering their massive size, but plankton and other small fish are actually nutritious food entering the mouth of a cute whale shark.
Do humans eat them?
No, humans do not eat whale sharks. Humans usually hunt this fish for its rich oil, flesh, and fins.
Would they make a good pet?
One should not try to pet a whale shark because these are endangered species. But, whale sharks will definitely make a good pet due to their docile nature. However, one has to make an arrangement for a massive tank before deciding to make a pet out of this fish. It is gigantic in size. It is not ideal for a pet for this reason, however.
Did you know...
Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are known to have over 300 rows of minuscule teeth in their mouths. Twenty filter pads within their mouth are used to filter their food. They have a unique feeding technique, where they gulp mouthful water first, and later they force that water out of their gills. In this process of filtering, their small preys get trapped in the small filter pads. They have beautiful coloration throughout their body, which is often helpful when these fishes try to camouflage. The patterns of stripes and dots are unique to each whale fish. Owning to their gentle nature, it is possible to snorkel and swim with whale sharks. Numerous such excursions are carried out in Honduras, the Philippines, and Mexico.
Do whale sharks attack humans?
No, whale sharks are incredibly gentle fish. They are calm, docile, and placid. This species of the largest fish in the ocean move through the deep waters with grace. People often get confused with the 'shark' in their name. They are definitely sharks and have similar cartilage skeletons. Yet, they neither chase nor hunt down their prey, nor attack humans. They derive the 'whale' term in their name owing to the filter-feeding habit. They are harmless and non-aggressive. It has often been heard that they are very good companions for deepwater divers. Fancy a whale shark dive? They are known to interact with divers in a peaceful manner, and many divers have considered young whale sharks as even playful!
What is unique about the whale shark?
The uniqueness of whale sharks lies in their enormous whale shark mouth and their filter feeder process. The whale shark length or whale shark size also makes them unique and gives them the title of the world's largest fish. In 1868, a whale shark of record length at 540 inches was discovered, the largest whale shark ever. Their lifespan also makes them unique. The record lifespan of a whale shark has been 125 years. These are just some of the whale shark facts and information that makes them unique.
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