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.
Here are some interesting whale shark facts for you. 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 by more than 30 percent. Populations continue to decrease and because of this, they 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 the Whale Shark and highlight some things that you can do to help.
50 Fun And Interesting Facts About Whale Sharks
1. Whale Shark size, they are the largest fish in the world.
2. The scientific name for them is, “Rhincodon typus”.
3. They 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. Where do whale shark live? They can be found in tropical oceans in areas like the Maldives, the Philippines, and Mexico.
5. They 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 it, they are in no way related to whales.
8. They do however have a lot in common with whales, for example, they are very large 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 the International Whale Shark day is to raise awareness of how they have been hunted to vulnerability for its highly prized fins and meat.
11. Another one of our fun whale shark facts. Each one has its own unique pattern of spots, much like human fingerprints.
12. Therefore no two 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 their backs allow researchers to run visual analytics to correctly identify and track individuals.
14. NASA (indirectly) helped to perfect a tracking service.
15. ECOCEAN is an Australian non-profit that runs the largest identification program on earth—and anybody with a camera can participate. The Library currently holds in excess of 50,000 photos. Any person around the world can access and report a sighting.
16. This species of shark is ovoviviparous – meaning that the female gives birth to live baby whale shark young.
17. A whale sharks mouth is about 5 feet wide (1.5 m). That’s huge!
18. With a mouth so big, they can suck in around 600 cubic meters of water every single hour!
19. Whale shark teeth, most sharks have 20 to 30 rows of pearly white teeth, but these have more than 300 rows!
20. So how many teeth does a whale shark have? Well, they have around 3000 individual teeth, each one about the size of a match head.
21. What do whale sharks eat? Despite their enormous size, this species exclusively dines on very small life forms like plankton, krill, fish eggs, and small fish.
22. And, they usually swallow their food whole.
23. Attached to their 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 their narrow throat and digested.
25. Sometimes, they will lazily swim with their mouth agape. This low-energy feeding technique allows them 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 their 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 are known to visit exotic locales like the Galapagos Islands and Yucatan Peninsula every summer to gorge on the plankton there.
29. They 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 their skin are incredibly tough. This skin is covered in hard, tooth-like scales which are called denticles.
31. The hide on their backs can be up to 4 inches thick.
32. But, their underbellies are relatively soft and vulnerable – so when approached by human divers, they will often turn their 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. Although, according to some ichthyologists, they probably die in their sixties. However, others speculate that they can live to be 100 or even 150 years old.
35. Unfortunately not much is known about the whale shark reproduction and breeding habits.
36. What we do know is that they are ovoviviparous, meaning that they lay their eggs internally and carry them until the live whale sharks babies are born.
37. In 1996 a female was captured who was pregnant with around 300 eggs.
38. Over the course of a lifetime, a female can lay thousands of eggs.
39. Scientists speculate that the female gives birth to baby whale shark over a period of time as opposed to all of the eggs hatching at the same time.
40. How fast do whale shark swim? They can swim at speeds of only 5 kilometers per hour but can dive up to 1,000 meters.
41. Although they are sharks, they are very docile and pose no real threats to humans.
42. They cannot swallow a human due to the size of their esophagus being only a couple of inches across.
43. They are one of the most vulnerable marine animals in the world.
44. And, they are currently listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.
45. Do whale sharks have predators? Unfortunately, their only known predators are us humans.
46. They are known to face a number of threats that can affect its survival.
47. They 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 deaths are attributed to the global shark fin trade.
49. The dorsal fins are regarded as trophies fetching thousands of dollars apiece.
50. Interference to migration may be caused by artificial sounds that can confuse them, as they may rely on the sound vibrations to understand their environment.
Conservation Status of the Whale Shark
Although Indonesia, through its Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, has enacted a law for their conservation, they continue to be hunted for the 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 hunting 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 Them
So what can you do to help these amazing creatures of the sea? Share this information with others! Educate your friends and family to help raise awareness about this endangered species of share. You can also help 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.
Loving these great shark-related posts from Ocean Scuba Dive? You might also like to read these;
- Facts about Great White Sharks
- Facts about Tiger Sharks
- Adopt a Great White Shark
- Adopt a Basking Shark