Whale shark

Gentle giants of the sea, with mouths wide open to filter the ocean’s bounty

Omri Yossef Omessi


Whale shark

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Gentle giants of the sea, with mouths wide open to filter the ocean’s bounty

Population

The world’s largest living fish, the whale shark, is an awe-inspiring creature that can reach staggering lengths of up to 12 meters (39 feet) and weigh approximately 14 tons (28,000 pounds). Despite their immense size, these gentle giants are renowned for their harmlessness and friendly disposition towards humans. They belong to the Orectolobiformes, encompassing other carpet sharks like nurse sharks and wobbegongs.

Whale sharks are remarkable filter feeders, subsisting on a diet of tiny plankton and small fish. Their feeding process involves sucking water into their enormous mouths, which are equipped with over 300 rows of teeth. However, these teeth are not used for biting or chewing but serve a different purpose. Whale sharks boast five pairs of gill slits, which function as filters, trapping food particles within their mouths as water is expelled. Additionally, they possess a pair of barbels, whisker-like sensory organs located near their nostrils, aiding them in detecting prey in the surrounding water.

These magnificent creatures primarily inhabit warm tropical and subtropical waters found in various parts of the world. Whale sharks are known for their migratory behavior, often traveling long distances for food and suitable breeding grounds. Their significance extends beyond their sheer size, as they play a vital role in maintaining the balance of marine ecosystems by regulating plankton populations and contributing to the health of oceanic food webs.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Atlantic Ocean
2016
Indian Ocean
2016
Pacific Ocean
2016
American Samoa
2016
Angola
2016
Anguilla
2016
Antigua & Barbuda
2016
Argentina
2016
Aruba
2016
Australia
2016
Bahamas
2016
Bahrain
2016
Bangladesh
2016
Barbados
2016
Belize
2016
Benin
2016
Brazil
2016
British Virgin Is.
2016
Brunei
2016
Cambodia
2016
Cameroon
2016
Canada
2016
Vagrant
Cape Verde
2016
Cayman Islands
2016
Chile
2016
China
2016
Colombia
2016
Congo-Brazzaville
2016
Cook Islands
2016
Costa Rica
2016
Cuba
2016
Curaçao
2016
Côte D’ivoire
2016
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
2016
Djibouti
2016
Dominica
2016
Ecuador
2016
Egypt
2016
El Salvador
2016
Equatorial Guinea
2016
Eritrea
2016
Ethiopia
2016
Fiji
2016
French Guiana
2016
French Polynesia
2016
Gabon
2016
Gambia
2016
Ghana
2016
Grenada
2016
Guadeloupe
2016
Guatemala
2016
Guinea-Bissau
2016
Guinea
2016
Guyana
2016
Haiti
2016
Honduras
2016
India
2016
Indonesia
2016
Iran
2016
Iraq
2016
Israel
2016
Jamaica
2016
Japan
2016
Jordan
2016
Kenya
2016
Kiribati
2016
Liberia
2016
Madagascar
2016
Malaysia
2016
Maldives
2016
Marshall Islands
2016
Martinique
2016
Mauritania
2016
Mexico
2016
Micronesia
2016
Montserrat
2016
Morocco
2016
Mozambique
2016
Myanmar
2016
Namibia
2016
Nauru
2016
New Caledonia
2016
New Zealand
2016
Vagrant
Nicaragua
2016
Nigeria
2016
Niue
2016
Oman
2016
Pakistan
2016
Panama
2016
Papua New Guinea
2016
Peru
2016
Philippines
2016
Pitcairn
2016
Portugal
2016
Puerto Rico
2016
Qatar
2016
Saint Helena
2016
Saint Lucia
2016
Saint Martin
2016
French Part
Saint Vincent
2016
Samoa
2016
Saudi Arabia
2016
Senegal
2016
Sierra Leone
2016
Sint Maarten
2016
Dutch Part
Solomon Islands
2016
Somalia
2016
South Africa
2016
St. Kitts & Nevis
2016
Sudan
2016
Suriname
2016
São Tomé & Príncipe
2016
Taiwan
2016
Tanzania
2016
Thailand
2016
Togo
2016
Tokelau
2016
Tonga
2016
Turks & Caicos
2016
Tuvalu
2016
UAE
2016
US Virgin Islands
2016
United States
2016
Uruguay
2016
Vanuatu
2016
Venezuela
2016
Vietnam
2016
Wallis & Futuna
2016
Yemen
2016

Recent Updates

July 2024: Researchers have discovered that the whale shark significantly feeds on Sargassum, a brown seaweed prevalent at Ningaloo Reef. Analysis of whale shark tissue revealed compounds from this seaweed, highlighting its importance in the diet of these giant fish.

Sept 2023: According to a study by UK and Mexican researchers published in Scientific Reports, eco-tourism may be influencing the behavior of whale sharks. The research indicates that whale sharks display signs of disturbance when in close proximity to human swimmers.

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Get to know me

Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No