Whale Shark Facts

Scientific Name: Rhincodon typus

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

  • Similar to the fingerprint of a human, the pattern of spots around the gill area are unique to each individual allowing researchers to identify individual sharks.
  • The only known predator of the whale shark is humans.The mouth of the whale shark is massive, reaching a width of approximately 1 meter (over 3 feet).
  • Only 3 shark species (the whale shark, the basking shark, and the megamouth shark) are filter feeders, straining their prey from the water column.
  • The whale shark can reach a length of 40 feet or more and weighs 20 or more tons.


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.


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. 

Learn more about threats to sharks here.


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Photo credits: iStockphoto