Whale Shark

Basking Shark The Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus), the sole living member of its family, is the biggest shark and the biggest fish. It is NOT a whale. It has a huge mouth which can be up to 4 feet (1.4 m) wide. Its mouth is at the very front of its head (not on the underside of the head like in most sharks). It has a wide, flat head, a rounded snout, small eyes, 5 very large gill slits, 2 dorsal fins (on its back) and 2 pectoral fins (on its sides). The spiracle (a vestigial first gill slit used for breathing when the shark is resting on the sea floor) is located just behind the shark's eye. Its tail has a top fin much larger than the lower fin.

The whale shark is up to 46 feet (14 m), weighing up to 15 tons. The average size is 25 feet (7.6 m) long. Females are larger than males (like most sharks).

It has been estimated that whale sharks may live up to 100 - 150 years.

The whale shark has distinctive light-yellow markings (random stripes and dots) on its very thick dark gray skin. Its skin is up to 4 inches (10 cm) thick. There are three prominent ridges running along each side of the shark's body.

This enormous shark is a filter feeder and sieves enormous amounts of plankton to eat through its gills as it swims.

It was well-developed internal spongy filters at the gill arches, which help to retain small prey within its huge mouth. This mechanism may impede the flow of water through the mouth during swimming, which limits the amount of plankton the shark can strain. So, as well as filter feeding, it can also pump water into its mouth to feed on concentrated patches of plankton.

Whale sharks are found worldwide in the warm oceans from the equator to about ±30-40° latitude in all tropical and subtropical oceans, along coastal regions, and enters lagoons on tropical islands.. They are not, however, found in the Mediterranean Sea. It is mostly seen on the surface were divers and snorkelers can swim with this gentle, curious creature.

The whale shark ranges throughout the western and eastern Atlantic Ocean, the Indo-West, central, and eastern Pacific Ocean.