50 Facts about Whale Sharks

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world. Although the name suggests, they are not whales; they are sharks. Confusing? A little… But don’t worry, that’s why we have put together all these shark facts to help you to understand these gentle giants and learn more about them.

According to the IUCN, the Indo-Pacific population of the whale shark is thought to have reduced 63 percent over the past 75 years and the population in the Atlantic is thought to have been reduced more than 30 percent. Populations of whale shark continue to decrease and because of this, whale sharks are currently classified as endangered.

We want to teach you all about this shark, and that’s why we have put together these 50 facts about whale sharks, with the hope that we can raise awareness for whale sharks and highlight some things that you can do to help.  

Facts about Whale Sharks

1. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world.

2. The scientific name for the whale shark is, “Rhincodon typus”.

3. Whale sharks belong to the group called Chondrichthyes, 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.

4. Whale sharks can be found in tropical oceans in areas like the Maldives, the Philippines, and Mexico.

5. Whale sharks can grow up to 40 feet (12 meters) long, but on average they grow to 18 to 32.8 feet.

6. This species of shark weighs around 20.6 tons. That’s about the size of a school bus!

7. Although the name suggests Whale sharks are in no way related to whales.

8. Whale sharks do however have a lot in common with whales, for example, they are very large like whales and they feed more like whales than a typical shark.

9. International Whale Shark day is celebrated every year on 30th August.

10. The purpose of International Whale Shark day is to raise awareness of how the whale shark has been hunted to vulnerability for its highly prized fins and meat.

Facts about Whale Sharks

Image Source: The Beach Tulum Hotel

11. Each whale shark has its own unique pattern of spots, much like human fingerprints.

12. No two whale sharks share the exact same pattern. Just behind their gills, every single one has a totally unique arrangement of pale, white spots.

13. The unique patterns on a whale sharks back allow researchers to run visual analytics to correctly identify and track individual whale sharks

14. NASA (indirectly) helped to perfect a whale shark tracking service.

15. ECOCEAN is an Australian non-profit that runs the largest whale shark identification program on earth—and anybody with a camera can participate. The Library currently holds in excess of 50,000 photos. Any people around the world can access and report any whale shark sighting.

16. This species of shark is ovoviviparous – meaning that female whale sharks give birth to live young.

17. A whale shark’s mouth is about 5 feet wide (1.5 m). That’s huge!

18. With a mouth so big, a whale shark can suck in around 600 cubic meters of water every single hour!

19. Most sharks have 20 to 30 rows of pearly white teeth, but the whale shark has more than 300 rows!

20. That means a whale shark has around 3000 individual teeth, each one about the size of a match head.

Whale Shark swimming with diver

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21. Despite a whale sharks enormous size, this species of shark exclusively dines on very small life forms like plankton, krill, fish eggs, and small fish.

22. Whale sharks usually swallow their food whole.

23. Attached to a whale sharks gills is a mesh-like network of long, cartilaginous bars known as “gill rakers.”

24. Gill rakers allow the water to escape, but also prevent even millimeter-sized victims from getting away. Eventually, the meal is forced down our whale shark’s narrow throat and digested.

25. Sometimes, a whale shark will lazily swim with its mouth agape. This low-energy feeding technique allows the shark to passively swallow any food items that might be in its path.

26. In three years, it has been recorded that a single whale shark can travel 8000 miles or more.

27. Although a whale sharks migration habits are not fully understood, we know that the fish tend to gather in large groups in specific places at specific times.

28. Huge schools of whale sharks are known to visit exotic locales like the Galapagos Islands and Yucatan Peninsula every summer to gorge on the plankton there.

29. While sharks do not use sound for communication they are able to detect vibrations made by sound which can help them locate prey or nearby marine life.

30. Parts of a whale sharks skin are incredibly tough. This skin is covered in hard, tooth-like scales which are called denticles.

Whale shark facts

Image Source: Brian Sterry

31. The hide on a whale shark back can be up to 4 inches thick.

32. Whale sharks underbellies are relatively soft and vulnerable – so when approached by human divers, a whale shark will often turn its belly away from them.

33. Most experts agree that whale sharks reach sexual maturity around age 30, but their total life expectancy is unknown – with estimates are all over the map.

34. According to some ichthyologists, whale sharks probably die in their sixties. However, others speculate that whale sharks can live to be 100 or even 150 years old.

35. Unfortunately not much is known about the whale sharks reproduction and breeding habits.

36. What we do know is that a whale shark is ovoviviparous, meaning that the shark lays its eggs internally and carries them until live birth occurs.

37. In 1996 a female whale shark was captured who was pregnant with around 300 eggs.

38. Over the course of a lifetime, a whale shark can lay thousands of eggs.

39. Scientists speculate that the female whale shark gives birth to her children over a period of time as opposed to all of the eggs hatching at the same time.

40. Whale sharks swim at speeds of only 5 kilometers per hour but can dive up to 1,000 meters.

Whale Shark facts

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41. Although they are sharks, they are very docile and pose no real threats to humans.

42. A whale shark cannot swallow a human due to the size of its esophagus being only a couple of inches across.

43. Whale sharks are one of the most vulnerable marine animals in the world.

44. The whale shark is currently listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.

45. The only known predator of the whale shark is humans.

46. The whale shark is known to face a number of threats that can affect its survival.

47. Whale sharks prefer to swim in shallow waters of up to around 50 meters deep, this habit, unfortunately, makes them exceptionally vulnerable to ship collisions and fishing nets.

48. Most whale shark deaths are attributed to the global shark fin trade.

49. The dorsal fins from whale sharks are regarded as trophy fins fetching thousands of dollars apiece.

50. Interference to a whale sharks migration may be caused by artificial sounds that can confuse the shark as they may rely on sound vibrations to understand their environment.

facts about whale sharks

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Conservation Status of the Whale Shark

Although Indonesia, through its Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, has enacted a law for whale shark conservation, the whale shark continues to be hunted for its highly prized fins and meat and is one of the most endangered sharks in the world and is currently classified as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List.

Directed fisheries and significant bycatch fisheries have targeted areas where high densities of Whale Sharks occur, leading to rapid reductions. Although the hunting of Whale Sharks is banned in some countries including the Philippines, India, and Taiwan, in the absence of conservation action, a decline is likely to continue into the future.

What You Can Do to Help the Whale Shark

So what can you do to help these amazing sharks? Share this information with others! Educate your friends and family to help raise awareness about this endangered species of share. You can also help whale sharks by not purchasing items made from their fins. Another great way to support is to adopt a whale shark today, help support their conservation and help towards a better future for our whale sharks.

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