Today, the world is showing the biggest shark that lives in our oceans – the whaleshark – some big, BIG love. Because believe it or not, the biggest fish in the sea needs all the love they can get! Sure they are a shark – but they are the closest thing to a vegetarian that exists in the shark world. Filter feeders, they eat plankton – certainly not people! While their mouths are over a metre wide, their throats are the size of a quarter. And before you begin to worry about their 3,000+ teeth, you should probably know they are only the size of the head of a match.
It’s hard to believe given the fact they can grow up to 12 metres in length and weigh up to 20 tons, but they are very elusive and proficient in the art of underwater camouflage. In fact, Jacques Cousteau only saw three in his lifetime!
They are found in all temperate and tropical oceans around the world except for the Mediterranean Sea, and can migrate thousands of miles between feeding areas. They spend most of their lives near the surface, but have been known to dive to depths of almost 2,000m.
These gentle giants are magical – with a unique dot pattern that is specific to each individual whaleshark. Their populations are so low that there is a genetic similarity among all whalesharks worldwide. Whalesharks play an extremely important role keeping the oceans healthy while also creating sustainable income for local communities through tourism. However, like many other shark species, whalesharks are classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, with declining populations worldwide. With massive migratory areas that make them difficult to protect, the fact they are often bycatch or targeted for their meat and fins, and as filter feeders that they often consume micro-plastics, whale sharks need all the help they can get.
Whale Shark Fun Facts:
● Name: Rhincodon typus
● Size: Up to 12 metres.
● Weight: up to 20 tons (equivalent to three African elephants, a full school bus or 12,000-plus bricks!)
● Physical features: mouths are over a metre wide with 3,000 teeth, eyes are as big as golf balls
● Life Span: estimated 60-100 years
● IUCN Red List Status: Endangered
Photo credit: Shawn Heinrichs