Whale Shark Day

…or maybe it’s a Whark? Whatever you want to call it, today is International Whale Shark Day! But before you start running away screaming “Jawwwwws!” don’t be alarmed. With a face like a whale and a body like a shark, these seemingly frightening creatures are actually gentle giants.

Found in tropical oceans in areas like the Maldives, Philippines and Mexico they feed mainly on plankton and are by far the largest living non mammalian vertebrate. But despite being docile (they pose absolutely no threat to divers) they’re also unfortunately hunted for their highly prized fins and meat.

As a vulnerable species we need to protect the whale shark and their ocean home. Check out these facts about whale sharks… And then raise a glass of plankton and celebrate whale shark day!

Whale Shark in Cenderawasih Bay © Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

A whale shark in Cenderawasih Bay National Park, Indonesia  © Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

Whale shark © Greenpeace / Gavin Newman

The Whale shark’s migration route takes them close to the shores off Rapu Rapu Island, in the Philippines. © Greenpeace / Gavin Newman

Each whale shark has a unique pattern, much like humans’ fingerprints. This allows researchers to run visual analytics to correctly identify and track each whale shark.

Whale Sharks © Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

Whale sharks in Cenderawasih Bay National Park, Indonesia. © Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

Whale Shark © Axel Heimken / Greenpeace

Whale Shark off the coast of Saudi Arabia. © Axel Heimken / Greenpeace

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List regards the species as one of the most vulnerable marine animals in the world. Indonesia, through its Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, enacted a law for whale shark conservation. Unfortunately, law enforcement much like the whale sharks, has little to no teeth.

Whale Shark © Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

A whale shark swims in the warm water off the coast of the Philippines.  © Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

Like most sharks, whale sharks breed slowly which make them dangerously vulnerable to overfishing. Most of which, are contributed due to the world’s insatiable appetite towards shark fins.

Sumardi Ariansyah is an Oceans Campaigner in Indonesia, with Greenpeace Southeast Asia.