Happy Shark Week!
Common Name: Whale Shark
Latin Name: Rhincodon typus
Location: Open waters of the tropical oceans, typically between 30° North and 35° South
Conservation Status: Endangered
The whale shark is the largest non-cetacean animal in the world, and the largest fish known to have lived. The largest accurately measured whale shark was 61.7 feet long, though the average length is estimated to be between 18 to 32 feet long. Studies that include looking at vertebrae growth bands have estimated their lifespan to be from around 80 years up to 130 years.
Unlike most shark species, a whale shark’s mouth is located at the front of the head instead of the underside. They have about 300 rows of tiny teeth that are thought to have no function in feeding. Even though they are the largest fish in the world, the whale shark can only swallow small prey due to it’s very narrow throat, which is compared to the size of a quarter. They are one of only three known filter feeding shark species, and have a diet that consists of zooplankton, the tiniest creatures in the ocean.
Threats to whale sharks include entanglement in fishing nets, boat strikes, ingestion of marine debris and micro plastics, and irresponsible whale shark tourism. Whale sharks are also illegally killed every year for their fins, skins, and oil. Bans on fishing for whale sharks and selling or trafficking in their meat have been in place since 1998 in Taiwan and slightly later in other nations in the region.
Utila, the smallest of Honduras’ major Bay Islands, is one of the few places in the world that experiences whale shark sighting year round, and is a hotspot for whale shark tourism. The Whale Shark & Oceanic Research Center in Honduras has been gathering data on the whale shark population since 1997, and has established whale shark encounter guidelines to promote responsible whale shark encounters.
⦁ The name refers to their size in addition to their filter feeding habits similar to that of baleen whales.
⦁ The whale shark has a huge mouth which can reach up to 4 feet across
⦁ Each whale shark has its own individual spot pattern and like fingerprints no two are exactly alike
⦁ Their skin can be up to 4 inches thick, which limits potential predators to orcas, great white sharks, tiger sharks, and humans