Whale sharks are grayish-brown with a white underbelly and white spots and lines. This species is the largest fish in the world measuring 20 - 55 feet in length. Whale sharks are usually seen in the open water.
© Greenpeace / Gavin Newman
Believed to have originated 60 million years ago, whale sharks are found in tropical and temperate waters worldwide at depths up to 100 feet.
This species is a filter feeder and sieves plankton through its gills as it swims. It also feeds on fish, squid, and pelagic crustaceans by opening its huge mouth.
Whale sharks have 5 large gill slits and the first gill slit (spiracle), which is used for breathing when the shark is resting on the sea floor, is located directly behind the shark’s eye.
This species can weigh up to 15 tons, and like most sharks, females are larger than males.
Whale sharks have about 3,000 tiny teeth, which are of little use.
This shark can process >1,500 gallons of water each hour.
Whale sharks are solitary species but at 30 years they begin mating.
This shark can live to an age of 100 – 150 years.
It is thought that the most significant threat to whale sharks is habitat loss or degradation in the form of overfishing of reef fish, coastal development, land-based pollution, increased boat traffic and noise pollution.
Fishing for meat and fins, harassment and boat strikes also pose serious threats to whale sharks.
Although whale sharks are protected under CITES, in some areas fisheries remain and continue to carry high prices.