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WHALE SHARK FACTS
|Scientific name:||Rhincodon typus|
|Mass:||19,000 kg (Adult)|
|Conservation status:||Vulnerable (Population decreasing)|
|Lifespan||Up to 70 years|
More About Whale Sharks
Whale sharks are the largest fish on the planet. These gentle giants are filter-feeders and are harmless to humans. The enormous whale shark, which can reach lengths of 40 feet or more, feeds on the tiniest of ocean organisms, plankton.
Whale sharks are striking in their appearance not only for their size but also for their unique pattern of spots and bars covering its gray body. The whale shark is popular with ecotourists hoping to snorkel alongside these gentle giants.
Whale sharks are the largest living fish on the planet. They belong to the group called Chondryichtyes, which includes sharks, rays, and skates. These fish have skeletons made entirely of cartilage in comparison to other fishes that have skeletons made of bone. Little else is known about the life history of this elusive giant.
Whale Shark Facts & Tidbits
Worldwide, whale sharks occur in waters of over 100 countries and have a broad distribution usually between latitudes 30°N and 35°S in tropical and warm temperate seas, both in oceanic and coastal waters. They congregate in feeding areas, often undertaking long migrations to reach areas rich in food sources.
Hot spots for viewing these sharks are Mexico, Belize, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia, the Galapagos, Honduras, South Africa, Mozambique, Seychelles, and India. Reefs-to-Rockies, an American organization that leads responsible learning expeditions around Whale Sharks, has an incredible itinerary that you can read here.
IUCN Status: Vulnerable / Population: Decreasing
Because Whale sharks live long lives (estimates say 70+ years), mature late not producing offspring until 30+ years of age, and give birth to relatively few offspring during their lifetime, they are especially threatened by human exploitation.
Threats to the whale shark include habitat loss which results in loss of prey species, coastal development resulting in marine pollution, collision with boats, and disturbance or harassment by boats and divers engaged in irresponsible tourism activities.
The biggest threat however, is the trade of whale shark parts including their fins which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.