Whale Sharks inhabit warm waters around the world.
Contrary to its name, the whale shark is not a species of whale, but it is both the largest species of shark and the largest species of fish.
The whale shark is huge and is said to be able to reach a maximum length of around 18 meters (59 feet). However, most of the specimens studied weighed around 15 tonnes (about 14 metric tons) and averaged around 12 meters (39 ft) in length.
The color of the body is characteristic. Bright vertical and horizontal stripes create a checkerboard pattern on a dark background, and light spots mark the fins and dark areas of the body
They live to be about 70 years old in the wild.
Commonly found in tropical and warm temperate seas, with large populations in the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific Oceans, whale sharks contribute greatly to the resilience of tropical marine ecosystems. They provide habitat and shelter for smaller sea creatures and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with tuna. However, anthropogenic threats, namely from the fishing industry and freight traffic (as well as noise pollution), are destroying this species. In the Indo-Pacific region, home to about 75% of all whale sharks, a 63% decline over a 75-year period has been inferred.
The whale shark, like the second largest fish in the world, the basking shark, is a filter feeder. Gentle giants, whale sharks swim with their mouths wide open, collecting plankton and small fish. To feed, it extends its huge jaws and passively filters everything in its path. As a filter feeder, the whale shark is also more likely to ingest toxic or indigestible pollutants entering the oceans, including plastics and industrial wastewater.
Its large mouth is well adapted to filter feeding and contains over 300 rows of small, pointed teeth in each jaw. When the shark swims with its mouth open, sea water enters the mouth and filters through the gill slits. Periodically, the shark closes its mouth to swallow trapped prey.
Whale sharks do not pose a danger to humans. Many individual whale sharks have been approached, examined, and even ridden by divers without showing any sign of aggression. They may, out of curiosity, approach and examine people in the water.
IUCN RED LIST STATUS: Endangered
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