Whale Sharks: Is it a whale or a shark?
Despite the scary name Whale Sharks are actually one of the calmest creatures in the ocean. And swimming with Whale Sharks is an adventure not to be missed! Whale Sharks are abundant in Mexico from June to September. So that’s the best time to arrange snorkelling alongside them. It’s always a good idea to do a little research before you commit – so here are some facts about the largest fish in the world…
Get Answers to Frequently Asked Questions…
Whale Shark: is it a Whale or a Shark?
Whale sharks are most definitely sharks. They are however very untypical of the shark species as they have a flattened head with a mouth at the front, rather than the underside.
Are Whales mammals?
Whale Sharks are fish. Not mammals. Fish have fins and are cold-blooded, whilst mammals breathe using lungs and are unable to breathe in water.
What do Whale Sharks eat?
Whale Sharks are known as filter feeders – this means they take plankton and small fish into their mouths as they swim. They sort the food from the water by using their gills. They can also stay still and suck in food and expel excess just as they would when moving. Small squid, fish eggs, and krill are other favourites.
Do Whale Sharks have teeth?
Yes, they do. Mouths that can be over a metre-wide house 300 to 350 rows of tiny teeth located alongside the filter pads. That can amount to over 3,000 teeth in total. But, they don’t use these teeth to eat. Each tooth is about the size of a match tip.
Are Whale Sharks dangerous?
Although Whale Sharks are huge they are extremely docile. And allow swimmers to get really close. They’re intelligent and will readily interact with divers given the right circumstances. Young Whale Sharks in particular can be friendly to swimmers and divers.
How big is a Whale Shark?
The biggest Whale Shark was recorded at weighing more than 20 tons!
How long is a Whale Shark?
Whale Sharks can grow up to 12 metres in length. The average size is about eight metres.
Where do Whale Sharks live?
As they migrate to feed in areas rich in plankton Whale Sharks are found in many tropical and warm ocean waters all over the world. In June for example you can see Whale Sharks in Cancun and Cozumel, Mexico, as well as in Australia and Indonesia! Some Whale Sharks have been seen in cooler waters off New York’s coast, but the majority are located in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans.
More Whale Shark Information
- Unique markings on the Whale Sharks skin mimic a thumbprint – marine biologists use the stripes and dots to identify individuals
- Whale Sharks have skeletons built of cartilage and not bones
- Female Whale Sharks produce eggs which hatch inside her
- About 300 baby Whale Sharks can be born in one go
- Whale Sharks become sexually mature at around 30 years of age
- The average life span of a Whale Shark is between 70 to 100 years
- Whale Sharks have no known natural predators, and are not predatory
- The Whale Shark population has decreased by 63% over the past 75 years
- The international Union for Conservation of Nature has listed Whale Sharks as a vulnerable species
Whale Shark Research
Recent methods include fastening IDs to Whale Sharks to study them. These devices monitor water pressure, temperature and light over a period of time. Then the devices automatically disengage themselves and float to the surface. Scientists can use the data to recreate the movements of the sharks.
Research has also confirmed that Whale Sharks primarily eat plankton or fish eggs, and if they catch something too big they cough and spit it out. As they can adapt to all kinds of changing environments their survival rate is relatively high.
Whale Shark tourism is on the climb. And specific rules have been put into place to ensure conservation is the main priority. A guide must always be in the water with snorkellers, and flash photography is strictly forbidden. Touching the sharks is also not allowed.
Ready to Take the Plunge?
Over 400 Whale Sharks gathered on the Yucatan peninsula to feed and mate one year! You’ll be able to enjoy swimming with Whale Sharks anytime from June to September. Arrange your Whale Shark tour with a certified dive master. You’ll be able to swim in a small group, and the price will include the rental of free snorkel equipment. If you want you can even book your own private Whale Shark tour!
You’ll be shown how to slip quietly into the water and instructed to maintain a distance of two metres from the head and four metres from the tail. Follow all of your guide’s directives and you’ll experience the most wonderful and safe way of snorkelling with Whale Sharks.