Are you interested in reading whale shark facts? Here are a few interesting things to know:
The scientific name of whale sharks is Rhincodon Typus
The average weight or mass of an adult whale shark is 19,000 kg or 42,000 lbs
They are considered endangered on the IUCN Red List due to a decreasing population
The average length of a whale shark is 11-12 meters or 40 feet
The average lifespan of a whale shark is up to 70 years
They are the largest fish on the planet.
The whale shark belongs to a group called Chondrichthyes, which includes other sea life like sharks, skates, and rays. A common question asked is “How many bones does a whale shark have?” and the answer is none! The criteria of Chondrichthyes is that they have a skeleton made up of cartilage, rather than bone. They are gentle giants and as filter feeders, they eat through filters in their mouths. Only 3 species of sharks are filter feeders including whale sharks, basking sharks, and megamouth sharks. A whale shark can have up to 3000 teeth at once and between 300 and 350 rows of teeth.
Whale sharks are considered to be harmless to humans despite their enormous size. They can reach up to 12 meters or 40 feet in length
but feed on some of the smallest organisms in the ocean called plankton.
Their appearance is incredible not only because they are so large, but also because they have a unique pattern of white spots that cover its body. They have a naturally calm demeanor, which is popular with eco-tourists that want to snorkel beside them. The pattern of spots around their gill area is unique to each individual which allows for easier identification. They have enormous mouths that can reach a width of 1 meter (more than 3 feet).
The best way to tell the difference between a male and female whale shark is that the males have two claspers near their pelvic fin.
As a species, they do not become sexually mature until they are 30 years. The females can have up to 300 shark pups at one time.
The greatest threat to sharks is the loss of prey largely due to climate change, habitat disturbance, and ocean pollution. They do not have natural predators, other than humans.
Where can you go to find them in the wild?
Whale sharks are found in the waters of more than 100 countries, most broadly found in the latitudes of 30°N and 35°S in warm and tropical temperate seas. They prefer surface seawater temperatures between 21 – 25°C (69 – 77°F) in both oceanic and coastal waters. They often congregate in areas they can feed, which is sometimes makes for a very long migration.
Common places you can visit this shark species are Mexico, Belize, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Japan, Australia, the Galapagos, South Africa, Mozambique, Honduras, Seychelles, and India.
This map outlines the regions you can find them in the wild:
Check out these tours that offer the opportunity to see whale sharks responsibly:
RED Travel Mexico, an award-winning social enterprise that leads to responsible learning expeditions around Whale S
harks in Mexico. To learn about their incredible ‘Whale Shark Researcher for a Day’ itinerary, click here.
Are whale sharks endangered and what threats do they face?
According to the IUCN Red List, they are listed as endangered as their population is decreasing. There are several factors that lead to this, including:
Although they live relatively long lives of more than 70 years, they reach maturity late in life and produce a low rate of offspring throughout their lives. Female whale sharks can give birth to up to 300 pups, but only 1 in 10 are expected to survive and in turn reach maturity.
Human Exploitation & Impact
They face a negative impact from humans through irresponsible tourism practices, fishing, as well as injuries from boating and ocean recreation. In traditional Chinese medicine, whale shark parts including their fins are often used, which is one of their biggest threats.
Habitat Loss & Climate Change
Climate change has impacted many species in the world, and whale sharks are no exception. The changing climates lead to a loss in their prey species, and the development of coastal regions creates marine pollution which takes away large portions of their habitat.
Wait, there is more! Click here to learn about the current threats to shark populations
Prefer to watch and learn about whale sharks? Check out this beautiful 2 minute National Geographic video below:
How can you help protect whale sharks from extinction?
Here are a few ways you can help protect them:
Don’t purchase whale shark or shark products. One way to help protect whale sharks from extinction is to not purchase whale shark products. This includes whale shark meat and shark fin soup.
Learn more about whale sharks and share with your friends and family. Education is one way that we can all participate in the protection of whale sharks. By reading these whale shark facts and about the threats they face, you’re actively taking an interest in their well being and ways you can help! Use this information to share with your friends and family and keep the education train going!
Choose sustainable seafood. If you are unable or wish to not become a vegetarian or vegan, you can help by making smarter choices in the meats and seafood you purchase. Look for Oceanwise products or sustainably sourced seafood at your local grocery store, and make the choice to support responsible fishing.
Support responsible tour operators and take the KEEPitWILD Pledge. Responsible tour operators make smarter decisions about interactions with wildlife by ensuring their health and safety is put first. You can help by traveling these tour operators or conservation projects.
Another way to help is by taking the KEEPitWILD Pledge! Take the pledge and show your support of keeping wildlife wild.
Prefer to watch and learn about whale sharks? Check out this beautiful 2 min National Geographic video below: