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When you think of sharks, whale sharks aren’t typically the first species that comes to mind. Instead, we often envision the great white shark—it is arguably the most well-known and has garnered the most attention in Hollywood thanks to the film Jaws.
But if you’re wondering “Is a whale shark a whale or a shark?”, we’ve got the answer! Because sharks are considered to be fish and not mammals, whale sharks are just a colossal type of fish.
Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) belong to the group of cartilaginous fishes as their sleek bodies are made from cartilage. They were given the name “whale shark” purely because of their size.
To learn more about whale sharks, here are ten facts about whale sharks:
The size of whale sharks can vary some, but they are known to reach up to 65 feet in length and have an impressive weight of 75,000 pounds. Their gigantic size of whale sharks even rivals that of the largest whales. For reference, most whale sharks are the size of a school bus.
When a whale shark is born, they are around 16 to 24 inches in length. Unlike many other sharks, female whale sharks birth around 300 pups at once. Their offspring are tiny, unlike other sharks, who birth a small number of large shark pups.
A somewhat solemn fact about whale sharks is that they leave their pups after birth. Because of this, only 10 percent of whale sharks survive to adulthood.
Despite being massive, whale sharks feed on small plankton, crustaceans, and other tiny fish. To feed, a whale shark gulps large mouthfuls of water, which gets forced through its gills. Their small prey gets trapped in dermal denticles and the pharynx. Because whale sharks are so large, they require lots of energy from food. Luckily, the humongous fish can filter more than 1,500 gallons of water per hour.
Since whale sharks prefer to feast on plankton, they are not dangerous to humans.
The World Wildlife Fund (WFF) is working to protect whale sharks as they have become an endangered species. Many international markets demand their oil, fins, and meat, leading to a decreased population.
A fun fact about whale sharks is that they live for 70 to 100 years, which is quite impressive for such a large species. Female whale sharks reach their sexual maturity at 30 years of age.
This is true for most shark species and also for baleen whales. Whale shark females are typically larger than the males, which many speculate is because they require more body fat to raise and nurture their calves. Thus, telling male and female whale sharks apart is relatively simple.
Whale sharks are incredibly easy to identify as they are covered in polka dots. The spots appear in a horizontal and vertical pattern across their entire body. Whale sharks typically have a brown, gray, or white belly, a flat head, and a rounded snout.
Every year, whale sharks migrate to optimize growth and to find more foraging opportunities. The world’s largest fish can migrate thousands of miles, and scientists have even observed a whale shark traveling a whopping 8,000 miles in 37 months. For whale sharks, Mexico and the central west coast of Australia are popular migrating destinations as they prefer warm water.
Even though they don’t require considerable chompers to eat their prey, whale sharks have thousands of teeth. Whale sharks don’t bite or chew, but they have approximately 3,000 teeth that are less than one inch long. These tiny teeth help them consume shrimp, fish, and their all-time favorite meal: plankton.
To protect their peepers, whale sharks have scale-like structures surrounding their iris, and their armored eyes can retract into their sockets when needed.
Book a Whale Watching Cruise Today
Now that you’ve learned some facts about whale sharks, your interest in getting out on the water and seeing other marine mammals for yourself has probably peaked. Well if you’re in the Los Angeles / Long Beach area or planning to visit soon, Harbor Breeze Yacht Charters and Cruises is the perfect opportunity for you. As a top Los Angeles whale-watching operator, our whale-watching cruises take families out to sea on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, searching for the ocean’s most beautiful creatures – whales, dolphins, and sea lions included! For more information regarding times, prices, and more, please visit us online. We can’t wait to see you on board – book a cruise today!