Despite the whale shark's (Rhincodon typus) massive size and apparent visibility, this giant fish remains in many respects a big mystery. Scientists know little about its behavior and life history but what they do know paints a picture of a gentle giant.
Whale sharks are not fierce predators like their smaller cousin the great white shark. Instead, they calmly filter their meals from the water as they swim, mouths agape. They siphon a variety of tiny planktonic prey in this way from the water—krill, crab larvae, and copepodes. Occasionally they also eat small fish such as sardines, anchovies, and mackerel. Despite the small size of their prey, whale sharks grow to an impressive bulk.
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world. Adults can be as long as 18 meters and weigh up to 20 tons. The mouth of a whale shark is positioned at the end of its snout. This is unusual for sharks, in most species the mouth is located on the underside of the head. The jaws of a whale shark are enormous, measuring as much as 3 1/4 ft (1 m) from side-to-side.
Range and Habitat:
Whale sharks inhabit tropical and temperate waters around the world. They migrate vast distances and often remain in the open sea (are therefore considered to be pelagic). Some of the coastal sites they visit include Gladden Spit in Belize, Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, and Batangas in the Philippines.