They are a species of shark but not a whale
Don’t be fooled by the name. Whale sharks aren’t related to whales at all, but are a type of shark species. While sharks typically have a fearless reputation, whale sharks are very docile and inquisitive creatures that are known to approach divers and snorkels. They pose no danger to humans.
Whale sharks are the largest known fish in the world
Whale sharks can reach a staggering 40-feet in length. While measuring the length of a whale shark is logistically challenging, gauging the average weight of these behemoths is almost impossible. Research suggests that the biggest are over 20 tons with unconfirmed reports of even larger individuals.
They’ve got thousands of teeth, but don’t use them
Whale sharks have around 3,000 small teeth set in rows. However, they are filter feeders which means they use their large mouths and gills to sieve tiny plankton so have no real use for their teeth, making them harmless to humans. Though their prey is small, they are known to consume over 20 kilos of plankton and small fish every day.
Their lifespan is estimated to be up to 100 years
There was a gathering of more than 400 individuals in Mexico
Whale sharks are quite solitary creatures, but in 2011 an unusual gathering of more than 400 individuals occurred off Mexico’s Holbox Island. It is thought to be the largest group of whale sharks ever recorded. The nutrient rich waters of the island, located just of the northern Yucatan coast, is one of the most reliable places in the world to spot the species.
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Whale sharks give birth to live young
Though mating or pupping in the wild has never been observed, the study of a captured female in the 90s revealed that the species is ovoviviparous. This means that the pups hatch from their egg inside the womb and exit as live young. Interestingly, females retain the males’ sperm from one mating and stagger the births of up to 300 pups over a prolonged period.
Pups grow extraordinarily quickly
Fully grown adults have no natural predators, but juveniles often become the targets of apex-predators such as great whites. To counter this, whale sharks grow very quickly. A newborn at the Oita Ecological Aquarium in Japan grew from 1.7 to over 330 pounds in just three years.
The species if classified as vulnerable
The meat, fins and oil of whale sharks if highly prized and valued on the international black market. Sadly, the means the species is hunted. They are slow moving, making them easy targets for poachers. They have been known to get caught up in the nets of commercial fishing vessels which often leads to their death. Awareness and conservation projects are vital in helping the population grow and ensuring they do not become endangered.
Wildlife experts, The Great Projects, run year-round whale shark conservation projects in several locations around the world. These projects give visitors the opportunity to get up close with these gentle giants of the sea and help to ensure their conservation through research and educational programs.
Proudly sponsored by The Great Projects.