We are whale-y excited to showcase this next shark to you, TFUI fans. Mostly because it has been a long time coming! It's one of TFUI Founder Melissa's dream species (as in, she wants to go snorkeling with it and in the future hopes to study them). Drumroll, please!
Introducing the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), the largest of all the fishes! Yes, despite it's name and it's rather large size (can get up to 18 metres in length but are more commonly 4-12 m) this IS a fish. Found around the world in tropical and warm temperate waters, these slow-moving animals feed on the smallest of critters in the sea: plankton, small crustaceans, squid, fish, and even fish eggs from the water! While they have hundreds (about 300) of hooked teeth, they don't use them to chew - instead they use filtering screens on their gills to suck up all those yummy treats. Most pictures of these beautiful animals are of them swimming with their huge mouths open. But don't let that fool you- they can eat vertically, too.
As you can see by the pictures (and Melissa's Etsy art- check out her whale shark inspired piece here), these sharks are not easily confused with others! They are a myriad of blue shades with white stripes and dots... almost looking like a constellation of stars. In fact, scientists are using a NASA star pattern algorithm to identify and track individual whale sharks! They have prominent ridges on their body and their underbelly is creamy- the perfect camouflage for their surroundings! #Finfact: Did you know the mighty whale sharks are closely related to the bottom-dwelling sharks (Orectolobiformes), which include the wobbegong? And did you know that a perfectly albino (white) whale shark was once spotted in the Galapagos? FINTASTIC!
So do whale sharks have any predators? At such a large size, it's hard to think of anything that wants to take on this mighty shark. But surprise- Moore and Newbrey (2015) found the vertebrae of a whale shark in the stomach of a 4.5 m long great white shark! Whether the shark was alive (or dead) when it was eaten we do not know.
As such a charismatic animal, it's no surprise that many in the ecotourism industry have taken advantage of their annual appearances in many places. These include famous areas like Ningaloo Marine Park in Australia! Whale sharks are regarded as highly migratory - although these 'migration patterns' are poorly understood and they may take years to complete. But perhaps their vast migratory patterns are related to Melissa's favorite thing: FOOD. And when your prey takes you from deep waters all the way to shallow coastal waters and the lagoons of coral atolls and reefs, well... you travel. A lot.
#Finfact: Whale sharks are one of three species of sharks that filter-feed (the other two are the basking shark and the megamouth shark). But don't let that fool you- they aren't related!
Whale sharks have internal fertilisation and produce live young. All we know about whale shark reproductive methods is from one female! The IUCN has assessed these sharks as Endangered (EN).
Interested in learning more? So are we!
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TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
SEE MELISSA'S TEDx TALK HERE:
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