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Scientific Name: Rhincodon typus
Whale Shark Description
The Whale Shark is very unusual and quite different from the other species that are out there. They have often been mistaken for a whale due to their characteristics. They have also been mistaken for the Great White Shark due to their gray coloring and white underneath like they have. Their coloring also offers yellow spots and even some stripes. These patterns are very different on each one of them.
This is one of the least threatening types of sharks out there but it is also the largest. When one is full grown it can end up being 40 feet in length. They can also be tipping the scales at about 47,000 pound so you aren’t going to be missing one of them if you see it. Most people never see them though so if you get the opportunity to do so take it.
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Whale Shark Anatomy
The Whale Shark has two each of the dorsal fins and the pectoral fins. This helps them to stay balanced in the water. They are one of the only species of fish that can’t move through the water to swim with their tail only. Instead they have to move the entire large body from one side to the other. This makes them slower and even takes away from the graceful moves of many sharks. However, their bodies allow them to be able to do what they can in spite of their enormous size.
They have skin that is thicker than any other shark, at about four inches when they are full grown. What is very interesting is that they have larger bodies than other sharks but a smaller head than most. It is somewhat comical but this does help them to be able to move as they need to. Their head features a mouth that takes up most of it, being close to 4 feet wide. This is because they have a complex filtering system that allows them to take in food.
Like all sharks, the Whale Shark has as many as 3,000 teeth in its mouth. They can have as many as 350 rows of them. As they need a front tooth to be replaced these rows will move to put one in place for the life span of the shark. Another unique thing about them is that they have three ridges that run across the sides of their bodies.
Whale Shark Evolution
While we have information to suggest that the Whale Shark has been around for the past 60 million years, there is still plenty that we don’t know about what all took place. Their filtering system is likely to be the biggest element of evolution for them. Only three species of sharks have this type of feeding system.
While we do have plenty of great information about sharks and their history, it is hard to specify it to just the Whale Shark. More in depth research needs to be done to help decipher the information that does pertain to this specific species of shark.
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Whale Shark Behavior
This is one type of shark that you don’t have to worry about out there. I know that many people do because it is so large. Yet they aren’t going to be able to consume a person even if they wanted to due to that filtering system. If you get the chance to see one up close then you can just enjoy that feeling and know that you are safe. They are curious creatures but they have never shown aggression towards humans.
The Whale Sharks spend almost their entire lives on their own. They move around for feeding but have a perimeter that they follow. They can be territorial when it comes to their feeding locations. Sometimes two of these animals will pass each other out there looking for food but it isn’t common that they will end up even acknowledging each other. These sharks can live up to 100 years but they generally have an average life span of about 70 years.
Whale Shark Habitat/Distribution
You will find the Whale Shark living in areas where the weather is very warm. They love the tropical waters. They are known to live out there in the areas of Australia, Indonesia, Mexico, and Tanzania. Some reports have indicated they may now be in the Mediterranean Sea as well. It is possible that they could live there but researchers haven’t been able to confirm it yet.
They do tend to remain close to the surface of the water. They need to be in their natural environment to thrive. Many of them that have been placed in captivity have died as they don’t do well with the stress .It is also extremely difficult and expensive to care for such a large species of shark.
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Whale Shark Diet/Feeding Habits
It can take many hours every single day for the Whale Shark to get its fill of food. They move very slowly in the water each day and their filtering systems take in plankton, fish, and squid. The water is then removed from their bodies, and this can be thousands of gallons every day. It is a very interesting process and you may be able to see some videos of it online if you are interested.
Whale Shark Reproduction
There is plenty we still don’t know when it comes to the reproduction of the Whale Sharks. We do know that they don’t take part in that process until they are about 30 years of age. This is a concern with their low numbers as it makes it increasingly difficult to get their population to increase.
Once the mating has taken place the females will have eggs inside of her body. After several months those eggs will open up and she will have live young inside of her. As she is swimming through the water she will give birth to them. The mother will continue moving along and so these young have to care for themselves. They instinctively know how to swim and how to search for food though.
Whale Shark Predators
Many people assume that the Whale Shark doesn’t have any predators due to their size. However, they have been victims of the Blue Marlin and the Blue Shark out there. Their biggest problem though is humans and likely always will be. There are many hunters out there with a desire to kill one of these very large creatures for the thrill of being able to hunt something so magnificent.
Commercial fishing entities have a huge problem with the Whale Shark. They have found their yield is less when these sharks are in the area. By killing them they are able to get more fish from the water, and that means more money in their pocket. Due to the waters where they live, they often run into humans being there in large boats. Many Whale Sharks are killed due to being struck in the head by a powerful boat.
In some areas of the world they are hunted as a source of food and to help villagers to make supplies. However, they don’t hunt them excessively as one of them can feed and entire village for a very long time. Today these sharks are vulnerable to extinction which is why efforts are in place now to try to prevent that from occurring.