Whale sharks are not exactly born with a slick, streamlined body like their cousins the blacktip reef shark, blue shark or the bull shark. The world’s largest fish is a little awkward in appearance. Like many of the large marine animals, these gigantic sharks are not vicious; in fact, they are docile by nature. Hence, this cumbersome-looking fish needs some much-deserved exposure as this week’s Wildlife of the Week:

Species: Rhincodon typus

Class: Chondrichthyes

IUCN Status: Endangered

Diet: Using its modified gill rakers to separate food particles from seawater, they feed on plankton like krill, fish eggs, sea jellies, Christmas Island red crab larvae, small squids and anchovies

Size: Recorded size of up to 12.2 metres

Behaviour: Docile, travel great distances and dive down to at least 1,928 metres – though the reason why is unclear

Distribution: Strong preference for warm seas. Whale sharks are predominantly found around Queensland and New South Wales, Australia, the Philippines and most recently, Dibba Coast, east of the United Arab Emirates

Ecosystem: Whale sharks are ovoviviparous, where the embryos developing inside the eggs remain inside the mother’s body until the fully formed baby whale shark is born

5 Fast Facts:

  • The population of whale sharks is being threatened. They are hunted for their fins, flesh and liver oil for treatment of certain skin diseases and manufacture of shoe polish
  • Like fingerprints, whale sharks have their own unique pattern of spots and stripes, which researchers use to track the movements of these enigmatic creatures
  • Besides being hunted, whale sharks are often victims of collisions from boats or boat propellers while feeding near the surface
  • Whale sharks cannot chew or bite, despite having 300 rows of teeth – that’s about 3000 teeth in total
  • Males and females can be differentiated by the presence of claspers (fin-like appendages under the abdomen of a male shark or ray) on the male’s body, used during mating. Also, the females are generally larger than the males