Whale Shark

Discovery

Overview — Incomprehensively enormous, the whale shark is the world’s largest fish. No one has ever been able to weigh this huge, yet majestic, shark. Estimates suggest the largest whale sharks weigh over 13 tons. They average 40 feet in length, but the largest can reach 60 or more.

White stripes and polka dots cover the upper portion of its body, mimicking light and seafloor objects to provide this dramatic looker with some camouflage. The size of the whale shark’s habitat is also large, extending from the surface to much greater depths. Divers and snorkelers around tropical island lagoons may spot whale sharks slowly swimming along the surface, but researchers have also documented this species thousands of feet into the deep.

Feeding Habits — Whale sharks are filter feeders that employ at least two basic techniques to gather their food. The first is a more passive method that involves the shark swimming into a school of fish with its mouth open. As it swims, it bobs its head back and forth to sweep in the greatest number of fish. The shark winds up swallowing everything that flows in, including old boots and other human garbage. To expel such undesirables, the shark can later evert its stomach through its mouth to eliminate the debris.

Another feeding method begins with the shark standing on its tail. It then shoots upward through schools of fish, again with its mouth open.

Cool Fact — In Vietnam, whale sharks are known as ca-ong, or “sir fish.”

Common Max Depth — 2,296 feet

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