Whale shark

Whale_shark_Georgia_aquarium

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The whale shark is a HUGE fish living in tropical and temperate waters around the world. This animal looks both like whale and a shark, hence its name. These sharks are different than most in that their mouths are at the front of their snouts. Most other species have their mouth towards the end but on the underside.

Because this shark looks so much like a whale, let me tell you how to tell the difference between these animals and whales. First of all, whales are mammals and sharks are fish, but that can be hard to tell from a picture like the one above. Sharks have a vertical tail fin (which they move from left to right), and whales have a horizontal tail fin (which they move up and down). Whales do not have all of the fins on the top and bottom of their body, and they also have a blowhole and no gills. These last two are kind of hard to tell from a full body picture like the one above.

Whale sharks, like many sharks, have a white underbelly and a dark gray back. Unlike most sharks, however, they also have a bunch of light spots on their back. Click here to see a video of these amazing animals.

Size

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world. Below, you can see a picture comparing a full-grown man to a whale shark. This actually would represent a small-ish whale shark. To represent how large these animals can get compared to an average human, the whale shark would need to be over five “squares” longer than it is shown!

There is some controversy over how large these fish can actually grow to be. Some sources say that their average size is from 18 to 32 feet (5.5-9.8 m) with a max length of 40 feet (12.2 m). Some places say these largest fish can be up to 66 feet (20 m) long! Just their mouth alone can be up to 5 feet (1.5 m) wide!

These fish are extremely large, so they obviously weigh a ton. Okay, well they actually weigh a lot more than that. Their maximum weight is around 34 tons (30,800 kg)!

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Diet

Whale sharks are huge, so they must have large food, right? Actually, it is quite the opposite. Whale sharks do not need the large, fierce, sharp teeth that great whites and other sharks need. This is because they feed mainly on plankton, like large whales do. Whale sharks have a different method of feeding than other planktivores. Instead of swimming with an open mouth and letting plankton float in, the whale shark actually sucks water into its mouth and through its gills, filtering out, and then swallowing, the mini organisms. Sometimes whale sharks eat larger animals, such as normal fish. This usually doesn’t happen completely on purpose, but when other fish are feeding on the same plankton swarm as a whale shark is, it sometimes just happens.

Whale sharks sometimes actively search for food, but they can also be extremely patient for a good meal. Individuals have sometimes been seen waiting on a reef for up to 14 hours just for fish to spawn so they can eat the eggs. Click here to see a video of a whale shark feeding.

Habitat and Range

Whale sharks live in temperate and tropical oceans all around the world. They typically stay near the surface, and they prefer water that is about 70 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (21-30 degrees Celsius). These fish do, however, sometimes make dives as deep as 3,280 feet (1,000 m). During these dives, the water temperature can go as low as 37 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius).

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Status and threats

The whale shark is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Because whale sharks are so large, adults have few natural predators. Immature individuals can fall prey to killer whales, marlins, great white sharks, and other sharks. In 2002, a whale shark was spotted with a missing fin and several large bite marks. These were thought to be courtesy of a hungry great white shark. The only real threat to adult whale sharks is humans. Now, you’re not going to go casually fish for a whale shark with a fishing rod, but commercial fishing ships can have the capacity to capture and hold a whale shark. In Asian countries, the flesh of this animal is highly prized. In 1999, a large whale shark fin was sold for 16,000 U.S. dollars for use in the infamous shark fin soup. In some countries, such as the Philippines, the catching of whale sharks is illegal.

Reproduction and young

Whale shark mating is not well documented, as it has only been observed a handful of times. These fish are ovoviviparous – a big word meaning the young hatch from eggs while inside their mother, who gives birth to the live young. One female can give birth to up to 300 pups at a time! Even young whale sharks are rather large. At birth, they can be up to 22 inches (55 cm) long! In addition to their large size, whale sharks also live a long time. It is believed that they can live for 150 years or more!

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!

nematepalwt

Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Whale shark – Zac Wolf
  • Whale shark size comparison – Matt Martyniuk
  • Whale shark range – The Emirr
  • Mystery animal – Paul Wilkins

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  1. Basking shark
    Basking shark at |

    […] sharks are some of the largest fish in the world, second only to the whale shark. There is much controversy over how large these creatures can actually get. Some say they can reach […]

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