Description: The enormous Whale Shark is the largest fish in the world. Its mouth alone can measure five feet wide and has hundreds of rows of small teeth (which are actually useless). The head of the Whale Shark is massive and flat.
The Whale Shark is dark gray above with three ridges running along each side of the body. The shark’s underparts are white. The body is covered in a checkerboard pattern of white and yellow spots. These patterns are unique to each individual and aid in identification. In addition, the Whale Shark has two pairs of pectoral fins and two pairs of dorsal fins. Its skin can be up to four inches thick.
The Whale Shark can measure up to 40 feet in length and weigh up to 20 tons. Many unconfirmed reports have told of much larger Whale Sharks. Because of their massive size, Whale Sharks are inefficient swimmers and usually travel at speeds of about three miles per hour.
Diet: Despite its huge size, the Whale Shark is strictly a filter feeder. It gulps huge quantities of water and filters it out through its gills. The remaining plankton, krill, and squid are consumed. They are harmless to humans.
Range/Habitat: The Whale Shark is found throughout the world’s tropical and warm-temperate oceans. It is found both close to shore and far out in the ocean. Highest concentrations of Whale Sharks are thought to be off the coast of the Philippines. The Whale Shark can dive to depths of at least 2,300 feet. There are several individual Whale Sharks currently in captivity, four at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, and four more in several Japanese aquariums. Populations of Whale Sharks in the wild are unknown; though the species is officially classified as “vulnerable”.
Reproduction: Very little in known about Whale Shark reproduction. Whale Sharks have recently been shown to be ovoviviparous (organisms in which the young develop in eggs within the mother’s body). Females give birth to live young that are almost two feet in length. Scientists believe it takes thirty years for a female to reach reproductive maturity. Whale Sharks are thought to live from 70-180 years.
Quiz Code: Large Fish!