Color logo with background

16 Fascinating Facts About Whale Sharks

16 Fascinating Facts About Whale Sharks

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean, yet many mysteries remain about these majestic marine giants. They inhabit tropical and temperate seas across the globe, migrating thousands of miles between rich feeding grounds.

Despite their tremendous size, whale sharks feed on some of the smallest organisms in the ocean. Read on to learn 16 facts about Whale Sharks:

Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are slow-moving, filter-feeding sharks and the largest extant fish species in the world. They are found in coastal regions of tropical and warm temperate oceans around the globe. While called a shark, whale sharks are more closely related to rays than predatory sharks like great whites.

Size and Physical Characteristics

Size and Physical Characteristics
Size and Physical Characteristics

Whale sharks stand out for their mammoth size and striking appearance:

  • Length: Average 32 feet (10 m), but can reach up to 62 feet (19 m)
  • Weight: 20 tons (18 metric tons), or about 30 small cars
  • Mouth: Up to 5 feet (1.5 m) wide
  • Unique appearance: Gray, brown, or blue on top with white underside and light stripes/spots
  • Teeth: Tiny teeth cover eyeballs and filter pads for straining food

Despite their tremendous bulk, whale sharks are surprisingly nimble swimmers. Their cartilage skeletons, broad fins, and mighty yet gentle sweeps of the tail make them highly efficient cruisers.

Researchers have recorded whale sharks diving to depths of nearly 3,300 feet (1,000 m), holding their breath for up to an hour. On the ocean’s surface, satellite tags have tracked whale sharks moving over 13,000 miles in under 3 years.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Diet and Feeding Habits
Diet and Feeding Habits

Whale sharks are filter feeders that sustain their immense bulk by straining tiny organisms from seawater. Their diet consists mainly of:

  • Plankton
  • Small fish
  • Krill
  • Squid
  • Crab larvae
  • Small squid
Food SourceEstimated Quantity Consumed Daily
Plankton21 lbs (9.5 kg)
Small fish14 lbs (6.5 kg)
Krill7 lbs (3 kg)

Whale sharks have several adaptations for vacuuming up food:

  • Gaping mouth: Allows large volumes of water to flow into the mouth
  • Gill rakers: Filter pads with small holes trap tiny morsels of food
  • Suction method: When lots of prey is concentrated, whale sharks vacuum it up while “standing” vertically

By some estimates, an adult whale shark may filter over 6,000 lbs (2,700 kg) of water per hour. That’s about the same capacity as a commercial water truck!

Habitat and Range

Whale sharks inhabit tropical and warm temperate oceans between 30°N and 35°S latitude. Sightings are rare in waters outside this range.

They tend to live pelagically, migrating between coastal feeding hotspots:

  • Western Atlantic Ocean
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Caribbean Sea
  • Indian Ocean
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Southeast Asia
  • Australia
  • Philippines
  • Taiwan
  • Southern China

Population densities peak at key aggregration sites, including:

  • Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
  • Belize Barrier Reef, Central America
  • Philippines and Taiwan
  • Quintana Roo, Mexico
  • Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Conservation Status and Threats

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies whale sharks as endangered. Threats to their survival include:

  • Fisheries: Targeted and accidental catching by commercial fisheries
  • Boat strikes: Collisions with cargo ships and passenger liners
  • Finning: Hunted for fins sold in Asian markets
  • Habitat degradation: Ocean pollution and climate change

Legal protections now exist in several countries including the Philippines, India, Taiwan, Maldives, Honduras, and Thailand. But enforcement remains a challenge.

See Also: Why are Whale Sharks Endangered?

Further research into whale shark behaviors and movements is needed to support conservation strategies. Eco-tourism may also incentivize preservation by generating income for local communities.

Interesting Whale Shark Facts

Interesting Whale Shark Facts
Interesting Whale Shark Facts
  • Migrate up to 13,000 miles every 3 years, the longest migration of any fish
  • Thought to live 70 – 100 years
  • Give birth to live young rather than laying eggs
  • Have smallest fins proportional to body size of any shark
  • Can expand mouth wide enough to fit a person inside
  • Tend to avoid areas with water temps below 70°F (21°C)
  • Have livers that can account for 25% of total body weight
  • Male whale sharks likely do not reach maturity until 30 years old

Whale sharks will cruise vast distances to take advantage of “food blooms” where plankton populations explode. By tracking these gentle giants, scientists gain insights into ocean health and the impacts of climate change.

There is still much to uncover about whale shark behavior, reproduction, and migration patterns. Further research and conservation efforts are critical to ensure the future survival of these marine marvels. By learning to live in harmony with whale sharks, humans also gain a deeper appreciation for the wonders of the sea.

You might also be interested in reading:

Picture of Steve Momot

Steve Momot

Steve is an accomplished professional photographer and marketer who specializes in the Fishing, Yacht, and Boating industry. With a strong presence as an influencer and marketing expert in the Marine Industry, he has made a significant impact in the field. Additionally, Steve is the original creator and co-founder of Sportfishtrader. Prior to his career as a marine photographer, he gained extensive experience as a licensed boat and car dealer in South Florida.

Leave a Reply

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

Share on.