On August 30 every year, everything that we know and love about whale sharks is celebrated. If you’re thinking about getting involved in this year’s celebrations, then here are some interesting facts about this large, docile, and very polka-dotted sea creature.
1. It’s Not a Whale. Or a Shark.
If you’re out to find a whale shark, then what you’re looking for isn’t either one. The whale shark is actually just a really big fish. It’s considered the largest fish that is known right now in the world, in fact, because it can grow up to a length of 40 feet. Some have been known to weigh over 30 metric tons. That’s a lot of sushi that could come out of one fish, though you’re not going to catch one because of its size with your average fishing rod.
The whale shark is actually considered a vulnerable species because of how often it is hunted in the APAC region. Because of its slow reproduction rate, heavy hunting could cause the species to go extinct rather quickly.
2. Eats Like a Whale.
The whale shark might be considered a fish, but it eats like a whale. It doesn’t prey on other fish like most large species do. The primary component of its diet is plankton and it eats by filtering the water as it swims. It takes water into its mouth and then expels it through the gills. If there is food in there, then it will get eaten. There are hundreds of tiny little teeth inside the whale shark’s mouth to help it process food, but it isn’t much of a chewer.
3. A Human Life Span.
The whale shark is known to live for at least 70 years. It doesn’t even begin reproducing until it is at least three decades old. Instead of living in schools or groups like most other fish do, the whale shark prefers to live all by itself. This makes it difficult to find a whale shark when swimming around the Galapagos Islands and finding more than one of them together is incredibly rare. You’ll find them in any tropical ocean, but the Galapagos tend to be the most common place to see one.
Some researchers believe that whale sharks could potentially live for up to 150 years if given the right environment.
4. It Loves You.
Whale sharks might live a lonely life, but that doesn’t make then an anti-social creature. If you find a whale shark while diving, there’s a really good chance that you’re going to find a playmate. They are extremely mild mannered and tread along the ocean waters very slowly. Most of the time you won’t find this fish swimming any faster than 3 miles per hour. Considering its size, however, that’s still a pretty remarkable speed.
5. Live Babies.
Another unique life feature of the whale shark is that it doesn’t lay eggs like other fish. When it reproduces, the female whale shark gives birth to live little baby whale sharks. How can you tell if you’re swimming with a male or a female fish? The males have what are known as “claspers”on the belly. The girls are a little bit bigger than the boys as well if you’re not so sure.
6. No Skeleton.
So they eat like a whale… but why are they also called a “shark?” It is because of how their body has been structured. Instead of a skeleton like fish have, whale sharks have a structure that is based on cartilage. That’s how they are like sharks, or sting rays, or the various types of skates. This makes whale sharks very flexible while swimming.
7. They Are Known to Migrate.
Imagine going on a road trip from New York City to Los Angeles. It would take about a week for the average driver to make the full journey safely while following the speed limit. There are some whale sharks that make even longer migratory “road trips” in the ocean every year at their 3 mph speed. To put that in a better way, it would be like walking from NYC to LA instead of driving. Hope you’ve got some comfortable shoes to bring along.
Whale sharks are one of the most fascinating creatures in the world today. Its uniqueness makes it a popular diving attraction when it can be found, but without protections in place, it may not be long before this species goes the way of so many others.