Species: Rhincodon typus
Trips: Espiritu Santo Kayak Sojourn, Whale Shark Day Tour
Likelihood of Encountering This Species: Extremely Often
The whale shark may be one of the most familiar and commonly recognized sharks due to its fame as the largest fish in the world—and for its misnomer as a whale. For all its immense size, the whale shark is generally non-aggressive and instead feeds via water filtration. If you can manage to look beyond the whale shark’s obvious traits, however, there’s much more to the world’s largest fish than meets the eye.
OTHER INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT WHALE SHARKS:
1. The characteristic pattern of “dots” that covers the whale shark’s body are unique to each individual shark. Researchers can therefore identify different whale sharks from their spots in the same way that humans can be identified from their fingerprints.
2. Though whale sharks are filter feeders, they feed in an entirely different way than their mammalian contemporaries (baleen whales). Whale sharks don’t have baleen (the strong, flexible filter plates that you see inside the mouth of baleen whales); instead, they have filter pads at the backs of their throats. These pads contain thousands of millimeter-wide pores that act like a sieve. When water passes through them food particles are captured for digestion. Baleen whales, on the other hand, must use their tongues to remove food from their baleen.
3. Whale sharks are one of only three shark species (out of the 440 known shark species) that feed through filtration methods. The other two filter feeding sharks are the basking shark and the megamouth shark. All three filter feeding sharks are known for their passive and docile behaviours.
4. Whale sharks have incredible lifespans. It takes a long time to grow to the 40-plus feet in length that whale sharks are thought to reach. Marine biologists estimate that whale sharks may live up to 150 or more years!
5. Whale sharks have a rough life. It’s tempting to see such a large animal as nearly invincible, but the reality of the Whale Shark’s life is far different. Fewer than one in ten juvenile whale sharks survive to maturity. Whale Sharks are also frequently hunted by humans for the fins.
As you go forth to admire these gentle giants in the wild, remember that whale sharks need our help, protection, and care. There are 7011 identified whale sharks left in all the world’s oceans. Let’s work together to spread awareness and ensure they remain there. And in the mean time, let’s enjoy some time with these creatures together!