Whale Shark on your Bucket list?
The whale shark is the biggest shark and the biggest fish. They are not Whales, they are sharks and the largest fish on the planet, reaching lengths of 40 feet (12 meters) or more. It is named “whale” because of its size and not because it is related to them. Swimming with whale sharks is a life-changing experience, but it must be done responsibly.
These gentle giants are filter-feeders and are harmless to humans. The enormous whale shark, feeds on the tiniest of ocean organisms, plankton. Whale sharks are striking in their appearance not only for their size but also for their unique pattern of spots and bars covering its gray body. They belong to the group called Chondryichtyes, which includes sharks, rays, and skates. These fish have skeletons made entirely of cartilage in comparison to other fishes that have skeletons made of bone.
Whale Shark Facts & Tidbits
- Whale sharks are in no way related to whales. Although they are sharks, they are very docile and pose no real threats to humans.
- Similar to the fingerprint of a human, the pattern of spots around the gill area are unique to each individual allowing researchers to identify individual sharks.
- The whale shark can reach a length of 40 feet or more and weighs 20 or more tons.
- Whale sharks have about 3,000 tiny teeth (less than 6mm long) but they don’t use those teeth to eat.
- Whale sharks are filter feeders and sieve plankton through their gills for much of their nourishment. They also sieve squid, krill, and small fish.
- The whale shark features five sets of large gills.
- It has a huge mouth which can be up to 4 feet (1.4 m) wide. Its mouth is at the very front of its head (not on the underside of the head like in most sharks). It has a wide, flat head, a rounded snout, small eyes, 5 very large gill slits, 2 dorsal fins (on its back) and 2 pectoral fins (on its sides). The spiracle (a vestigial first gill slit used for breathing when the shark is resting on the sea floor) is located just behind the shark’s eye. Its tail has a top fin much larger than the lower fin.
- Only 3 shark species (the whale shark, the basking shark, and the megamouth shark) are filter feeders, straining their prey from the water column.
- Whale sharks aren’t the fastest swimmers, reaching speeds no higher than 5 kmph. They swim by moving their bodies from side to side, unlike other sharks like the great white, who just use their tails to swim
- Another unusual aspect of it from other types of sharks is that the entire body has to be used for swimming.
- While it isn’t uncommon for sharks to have rows of teeth, the whale shark has an abundance of them. They can feature between 300 and 350 rows of teeth at a time.
- Whale shark can swallow 1500 gallons of water each hour.
- Whale shark lives between 60 and 100 years. Some scientists speculate that they may survive even longer than 100 years.
- Whale sharks are sexually mature at 30 years old. This is the age at which they are able to mate and reproduce
- The Whale shark was long thought to be oviparous (an egg 14 inches (36 cm) long was found in the Gulf of Mexico in 1953; this would be the largest egg in the world). Recently, pregnant females have been found containing hundreds of pups, so, Whale sharks are viviparous, giving birth to live young. Newborns are over 2 feet (60 cm) long.
- The only known predator of the whale shark is humans.
The whale shark is found to live in tropical climates in water that is warm. Generally they aren’t found too close to the shore.
Ready to swim with whale sharks now? Hot spots for viewing these sharks are Mexico, Belize, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia, the Galapagos, Honduras, Indonesia, Maldives, South Africa, Mozambique, Seychelles, and India.
Can you see whale Shark in the Caribbean?
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