Whale sharks are found in the open water and shallow coastal areas in tropical seas around the world, as well as in lagoons near coral reefs. They’re commonly seen near Australia, Mexico, South Africa and the Philippines. Their diet mainly includes krill, anchovies, squid, mollusks and crustaceans. Whale sharks can live to be more than 100 years old in the wild, but only live to be around 9 years old in captivity.
Whale Shark (Monterey Bay Collection)
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Chondricthyes
Order - Orectolobiformes
Family - Rhinocodontidae
Genus - Rhincodon
Species - R. typus
Common Names - Whale Shark
Whale sharks have striped gray, blue or brown skin with white spots on their sides and backs and a white underside. They have a shortened snout, a flattened head and barbels that stick out from their nostrils. Whale sharks are the largest fish species in the world. Adults range in size from 18 to 32.8 feet long and weigh an average of 20.6 tons. The largest whale shark on record measured 40 feet in length.
Not much information is known about the breeding habits of whale sharks, including breeding season and mating frequency. Females provide nourishment for fertilized eggs, which grow inside them. Once the eggs hatch, the females leave their young to fend for themselves. Whale sharks grow slowly and do not reach reproductive maturity until they are around 30 years old.
Whale sharks tend to live alone and do not maintain a permanent home range. Instead, they travel long distances searching for plankton and other prey. They eat by opening their mouth and filtering the plants and animals that enter it, much like baleen whales do. Whale sharks are slow yet powerful swimmers and are known for having gentle temperaments. They typically stay close to the water’s surface during the day and dive to lower depths at night.
Whale sharks are still found in most parts of their historic range, although some local populations have been affected by exploitation, such as being caught for their meat. The number of whale shark catches made in Taiwan and the Maldives, where this species has been targeted by fishermen, has dropped in the past few decades.
The whale shark is listed as Vulnerable due to its declining numbers. The species is mainly threatened by unregulated fisheries, which capture whale sharks for their meat. Conservation efforts include developing ecotourism that allows people to see whale sharks in their natural habitat and enforcing stricter fishing regulations.