1. Where do whale sharks live?
The largest fish in the world, also known as the “gentle giant” or “big mama”, can be found swimming around tropical and sub-tropical waters all over the world. They have a lifespan of between 70 to 100 years and can grow up to 40 feet long. Although they’re called whales, they are actually fish. The biggest whale shark ever recorded was caught off the coast of Pakistan in 1947 – measuring more than 41ft from nose to tail.
2 . What is a Whale Shark?
Whale sharks are actually a type of shark which belongs to an order known as Orectolobiformes that includes dogfish, cornetfish, and carpet sharks. These animals do not have a spine and like all sharks, they are carnivores.
They can be recognized by their huge size and unique spotted markings. They also have distinctive barbels (whisker-like protrusions on the snout) which they use to find food such as plankton, shrimp, and small fish that live near the surface of the sea. Their favorite prey is small fish such as sardines, mackerels, herrings and anchovies.
3 . How do we know?
Because of their large size whale sharks were once considered dangerous predators but more recently scientists have realized that these harmless giants feed mainly on plankton and other microscopic sea creatures using their extensive mouth area and thousands of tiny teeth. Whale sharks can grow up to 40 feet long and weigh as much as 47,000 pounds.
4 . Where do they live?
They can be found in tropical and sub-tropical waters all over the world between latitudes 30 degrees north and 30 degrees south which includes the Red Sea, Philippines, Australia, Mozambique and Madagascar. but mainly in Southeast Asia: near Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka where they appear during the early morning hours to feed before returning back to deeper water at dusk. Their ability to adapt means that whale sharks can now be seen year round everywhere from South Africa to Australia. The largest population is found around the island of Yap where about 300 or more individuals congregate each winter months when surface water temperatures drop.
5 . How do they breed?
Although little is known about the mating and reproduction of these massive creatures, we do know that female whale sharks migrate between birth sites and feeding habitats which means that their hatchlings could either be found in shallow bays or even in the middle of open seas.
6 . What else we can learn from them?
Male whale sharks don’t have any claspers (a part of the male shark anatomy used to introduce sperm into the female). So where does he put his sperm? Scientists believe it might be possible for the male’s cloaca (genital opening) to evert (turn inside out) so as to insert his sperm through his pores.
7 . What are the predators?
Humans are known to be the only real threat to whale sharks, but there have been reports of them being attacked by killer whales. The biggest threat however has resulted from incidental capture in fishing gear. They are included in some lists of endangered species because they face a high risk of extinction due to gradual loss of their habitat due to pollution, coastal development and other man-made activities that reduce their food supply. Because of this many countries have placed restrictions on catching these creatures. There are laws about catching one for display in an aquarium.
8 . How do they breath?
Whale sharks have five gill slits on each side with tiny teeth inside to filter water passing through while feeding. Although they are big, they need to eat small food items. They don’t have a nictitating membrane (a third eyelid found in certain animals) to protect their eyes from the sand and strong sunlight while feeding on or near the bottom. Instead of eyelids they have a row of modified skin plates that cover the eyes when they dive down for food.