The whale shark is the largest shark roaming the ocean! Its scientific name, Rhincodon typus, is believed to have Greek origins translating to “rasp” and “tooth.” This shark received its name due to its size.
Despite its massive size, the whale shark does not pose a threat to humans and does not even register on the danger scale to humans. They truly can be described as the “gentle giants” of the ocean. It is not uncommon for a whale shark to let scuba divers hitch a ride by grabbing onto their fins!
There have been reports of whale sharks purposely bumping smaller fishing boats, but they are often the ones receiving accidental bumps from shipping vessels since they spend so much time at the surface of the water.
Whale sharks are found in the warm waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. They are often found in deep and shallow waters of 70-86 degrees Fahrenheit, which are known to have high populations of microscopic organisms.
The whale shark’s enormous size definitely puts it into a class above the rest of the sharks. Their mouth alone is about 5 feet wide. Some whale sharks have been recorded at around 40 feet (as long as two giraffes standing on top of each other). It is difficult to determine precisely how much they weigh because scales that massive are hard to find, but some estimates put the heaviest at around 65,000 pounds!
Whale sharks stand out not only for their massive size but also for their coloring. They are bluish-gray or brown-black on top, white underneath on their stomachs, and have white stripes and dots on their sides and back. Each whale shark has a unique color combination of stripes and spots, similar to human fingerprints, which are used to identify individuals.
The whale shark has a flat head and a blunt snout. Their bodies are very streamlined and end with a two-lobed caudal fin (tail fin).
Although it possesses a multitude of teeth, no one really knows what they are used for since it appears they are not used to eating their food.
Whale sharks have a unique way of consuming their food, which consists primarily of plankton, schooling fish, and small crustaceans. They feed by opening their mouths, unlatching their jaws, and sucking in the water in their path. After it sucks in the water, it releases the water from its gills.
Even the most microscopic (tiny) organism is trapped in their specialized filtration system leaving only water to escape out, while the food organisms remain. There are only two other known types of sharks that filter feed as the whale shark does.
Whale sharks are massive, but they do not have large eyes to compensate for their size. Their two eyes are located behind their jaws, but their mouth is often open, gulping down dinner. This, as you can imagine, makes it hard for the whale shark to see.
Whale sharks have special sensors running up and down their body, allowing them to have additional “sight” beside their eyes. These sensors serve as what humans would think of as a backup camera! Although they cannot see from behind, they can feel the pressure of anything back there.
Whale sharks are ovoviviparous. Babies develop as eggs before being born live. Babies, called pups, are between 20 and 25 inches at birth. Female whale sharks give birth beginning at about age 25 and have about 300 babies at a time.
Unfortunately, the whale shark population is on the decline due to fishing, entrapment in fishing nets, and boat collisions. Whale sharks are considered extremely valuable to fishermen due to their large size and many uses. In 2016, they were put on the endangered species list.
- Although whale sharks do not use their teeth to eat, they do have a lot of them. Most shark species only have 20 to 30 rows of teeth, but the whale shark has 300 rows for a grand total of around 3,000 teeth!
- Whale sharks are very slow swimmers, averaging between 3 to 5 miles per hour.
- One of the weirdest things ever found in a tiger shark’s stomach was a chicken coop complete with chickens!